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Negotiations are now under way to bring the Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999, S. 331, to the Senate floor for a vote. Despite overwhelming bipartisan support for S. 331, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) has been reluctant to move the bill forward. S. 331 now has 74 Senate cosponsors, much more than is needed to overcome a possible filibuster, and demonstrates enormous recognition on both sides of the aisle that people with disabilities, including people with severe mental illnesses, who want to work, should have reasonable incentives to help them join the workforce and should not be encouraged to stay unemployed and on social security by existing policy.
All NAMI grassroots advocates are asked to contact their Senators and encourage them to contact Senator Lott’s office and urge the Majority Leader to schedule a Senate floor vote on S. 331, without any changes to the bill, before the Memorial Day recess. All Senate offices can be reached through the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. Contact numbers for members of Congress can be obtained by going to the policy page of the NAMI website at http://www.nami.org/policy.htm and click on "Write to Congress."
As readers of the NAMI E-News know, this important bipartisan legislation 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 under Medicare and Medicaid. 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). It is authored by Senators Jeffords (R-VT), Kennedy (D-MA), Roth (R-DE) and Moynihan (D-NY).
Senator Lott would like to see changes to the Medicare and Medicaid provisions of the bill, by making it more difficult for people with disabilities to qualify and by limiting income qualifications for the program. NAMI is concerned that some of these changes would further degrade modest improvements in initiatives to help SSI and SSDI beneficiaries become a part of the workforce.
UPDATE ON HOUSE BILL
The House version of the Work Incentives Improvement Act, H.R. 1180, is still solidly gaining momentum and now has 140 cosponsors. Leaders in the House however, appear unlikely to act until the Senate moves on S. 331. H.R. 1180, which has the same essential provisions of the Senate bill and was sponsored by Representatives Rick Lazio (R-NY) and Henry Waxman (D-CA), was voted out of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Health on April 20 and is waiting for scheduling in two full Committees, the Committee on Ways and Means and the Commerce Committee.
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