Disability programs remain at risk despite fiscal cliff deal

The so-called fiscal cliff deal, signed by President Obama on January 3, averts major tax increases to middle and low income class families, but delayed for two months cuts to programs that could greatly impact people with disabilities.

“A great battle still lies ahead in March when most of these issues, including annual appropriations and funding for critical entitlement programs that support people living with disabilities will need to be addressed,” said Donna Meltzer, chairman of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, a coalition of dozens of disability advocacy groups, in a news release. “Kicking the can down the road only delays the possibility of imposing devastating cuts to critical health, education, employment, housing and other key programs that constitute the safety net of supports for people with disabilities and their families. In addition, the new commission on long-term services and supports will be issuing their important report at about the same time.”

Besides extending unemployment benefits for a year, the deal makes some significant changes to the tax code, including avoiding a raise in middle and low-income tax rates back to the rate prior to 2001, raising payroll taxes to its previous rate of 6.2 percent after two years in which the rate was just 4.2 percent, and a small increase in income tax rates for those making more than $450,000 per year.

However, if another deal is not negotiated before March 1, then a series of automatic cuts will go into effect. Though Medicaid is exempt from any cuts, major cuts will be made to a variety of discretionary programs, including special education and other supports for people with disabilities.

Disability advocates have been especially concerned about a proposal to change that way that increases in Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits are measured, which normally increased each year based on the inflation rate. The proposal would measure these increases through a “ chained consumer price index,” which would result in smaller increases each year in benefits.

“Going into 2013, there will continue to be mounting pressure to generate additional revenue and to find additional cuts in the federal budget to reduce the deficit further, including the Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security programs,” the ARC stated in a news release. “The Arc’s advocates will be vigilant, putting pressure on Congress to protect these lifeline programs.”