|For Immediate Release
4 Mar 99
By a 16-2 vote, the Senate Finance Committee today favorably reported the Work Incentives Improvement Act (S 331), setting the stage for action by the full Senate. As readers of the NAMI E-News know, this important bipartisan legislation, authored by Senators Jeffords (VT), Kennedy (MA), Roth (DE) and Moynihan (NY), would reform the SSI, SSDI, Medicaid and Medicare programs to make it easier for adults with severe disabilities (including adults with severe mental illnesses) to go to work without losing health care benefits. S 331 also contains the "Ticket to Independence" program that would allow SSI and SSDI beneficiaries to use a voucher to select their own employment or psychosocial rehabilitation provider (outside of the current public vocational rehabilitation monopoly).
Just as important as the Senate Finance Committee’s action today is the fact that the number of cosponsors for S 331 today reached 62 -- Senators Bayh (IN), Edwards (NC), Kohl (WI), Landrieu (LA), Lautenberg (NJ) and Mack (FL) are the latest cosponsors. Senate bills with 60 or more cosponsors are in a very strong position for passage since they meet the threshold needed to overcome a filibuster.
At today’s "mark-up" hearing, only Senators Lott (MS) and Nickles (OK) voted against the bill -- Gramm (TX) was recorded as "present." Senator Nickles offered, but withdrew, 4 separate amendments that would have curtailed the extended health care coverage provisions that are included in the bill for SSI and SSDI beneficiaries who go to work. In doing so, he pledged to continue raising concerns about the cost and fairness of extending coverage for adults with disabilities when the bill reaches the Senate floor. More information on the Senate Finance Committee’s action are available through the Committee’s website at http://www.senate.gov/~finance/fin-leg.htm, click on the "Chairman’s Mark" for a detailed summary of the bill.
NAMI advocates are urged to contact all sponsors of S 331, particularly Senators Roth, Moynihan, Jeffords and Kennedy and thank them for their efforts to eliminate the unfairness inherent in the current system. All Senate offices can be reached through the NAMI website at www.nami.org and click on Write to Congress.
On the House side, efforts are still underway to get the Work Incentives Improvement Act introduced. Representative Rick Lazio (R-NY) is expected to introduce the bill soon. A separate, more narrow proposal that includes only the "Ticket to Independence" proposal may also be reintroduced soon by Representative E. Clay Shaw (R-FL). NAMI policy staff will provide an update once the bill is introduced in the House and a grassroots campaign to seek cosponsors can be undertaken.