President Bush Signs Executive Order to Implement Supreme Court's Olmstead Decision
On June 19, President George W. Bush signed an executive order to strengthen the implementation of the Supreme Court's Olmstead decision. Readers of the NAMI E-News will recall that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Olmstead v L.C. that unnecessarily maintaining individuals with mental illnesses in institutions, who are able to live in the community, is a form of disability-based discrimination and a violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Court called on States to develop plans for returning individuals with mental illnesses who are unjustly institutionalized back into community-based treatment settings.
In the executive order the President expands the scope of the decision to cover all persons with disabilities and states that the United States acknowledges existent discriminatory practices and is "committed to community-based alternatives" that address "unjustified isolation or segregation of qualified individuals with disabilities" who are inappropriately institutionalized. To access President Bush's executive order go to http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/06/20010619.html
This executive order directs federal agencies to work together to ensure that the Olmstead decision is fully implemented in a "timely manner." Specifically, federal agencies are ordered to effectively manage existing resources to provide technical assistance and cooperative guidance to States in the development of workable plans that move individuals with disabilities, including people with severe mental illnesses, into the most integrated community settings. Federal agencies are also given the task of reviewing and evaluating existing regulations, policies and programs to increase the availability of community-based treatment and services for individuals with disabilities. The executive order states that agencies shall report the findings of their evaluations to the President in 120 days.
In the coming months, NAMI will be engaging federal agencies in this evaluation process. Of some concern are the undefined measures in the Olmstead decision and the President's executive order for an allowable length of time in the process of moving individuals back into the community. In addition, standards of appropriate community care placements that ensure access for individuals with severe mental illnesses to the most effective treatment and services available must be developed.
Finally, NAMI will be watching carefully to ensure that state efforts to implement Olmstead do not further disadvantage adults with severe mental illnesses already in the community who are not accessing treatment, are homeless, or are in jails and prisons.
HUD ANNOUNCES 11 STATE PILOT PROGRAM TO HELP IMPLEMENT OLMSTEAD BUT MAY DISADVANTAGE PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
In conjunction with President's executive order on Olmstead, HUD announced on June 19 an 11 state pilot program, Project Access, that is intended to help meet the housing needs of individuals transitioning from institutions back into the community. HUD will make available 400 new housing vouchers, specifically for persons with disabilities, including people with severe mental illnesses, throughout the pilot states within the next three months. The pilot states are: Colorado, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. NAMI advocates in the designated communities of the 11 pilot sites are urged to contact their local housing authority and encourage these agencies to make every effort to serve people with the most severe and disabling mental illnesses that depend on SSI. To see a list of the participating counties go to the HUD news release at http://www.hud.gov/news/release.cfm?content=pr01-061.cfm
For this pilot program, Section 8 vouchers, that have previously only been used for rental assistance, now will be used for the purpose of purchasing a home. According to HUD guidelines issued last week, individuals with disabilities and their families with incomes up to 99 percent of the area median income and at least a $10,000 dollar annual income will be eligible for these Section 8 vouchers. By contrast, the federal SSI benefit for 2000 amounted to an annual income for beneficiaries of only $6,144 dollars (excluding the state supplement which may increase this figure marginally). Under federal guidelines, when determining an appropriate home to buy, no more than 30 percent of a qualifying individual's income may be used for homeownership expenses.
As these figures obviously demonstrate, homeownership is completely out of reach for non-elderly adults with severe mental illnesses living on SSI. NAMI is therefore reluctant to support efforts to allow Section 8 rental vouchers to be used for homeownership. Moreover, in this instance, HUD reallocated these vouchers from a separate account for people with severe disabilities (including mental illnesses) already in the community who have lost access to public and assisted housing as a result of "elderly only" designation policies. Funding for these vouchers have annually been put in the HUD budget since 1996 with NAMI's strong support by Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ).
This program to divert the 400 so -called "Frelinghuysen vouchers" for people with disabilities toward Olmstead implementation and "nursing home transition grants" at the Health Care Financing Administration 9HCFA) was initiated in July 2000 by the Clinton Administration. NAMI opposed this effort in 2000 and submitted comments to HUD in February 2001 when the agency formally unveiled the program. NAMI's comments can be viewed at http://www.nami.org/update/t010216.html
Among NAMI's concerns with the Access Housing 2000 program that was designed by HUD were:
- Only people with disabilities residing in nursing homes would be eligible - people transitioning into the community from public psychiatric hospitals were left ineligible by HUD (the very two plaintiffs in the original Olmstead case would be ineligible under HUD's guidelines since they were seeking to leave a long-term psychiatric hospital)
- HUD proposed to use rental vouchers, that Congress directed toward people with mental disabilities, for people with disabilities who have been declared ineligible for housing assistance in their own community, further lengthening waiting lists for many of the most vulnerable individuals already in the community.
This coming fall, the Bush Administration and HUD Secretary Mel Martinez will decide whether or not to continue this program and whether or not to divert additional vouchers from those set aside for people with disabilities already in the community. NAMI will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure that resources are not redirected away from people with mental illnesses already in the community who are living in substandard housing or are on waiting lists.
In addition, to announcing the award of these 400 vouchers, HUD also published on June 22, an interim rule for a new pilot homeownership program for people with disabilities. This interim rule establishes guidelines by which housing authorities can provide a homeownership option for people with disabilities holding a Section 8 voucher. To access the interim rule, go to http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/a010622c.html and scroll down to Housing and Urban Development Department.