How to Respond to the Unpredictable: Be Continually Ready for Action
By Anthony R. Candela, Co-Chair, AER Legislative Committee
December 21, 2016
The Trump administration will likely challenge us in ways we can only guess as we await the commencement of the 115th Congress and the Senatorial advise and consent process on Mr. Trump’s cabinet Secretarial nominees.
The AER Legislative Committee met on Wednesday, December 7, 2016, for a focused discussion on what we can anticipate under the upcoming Trump administration. For the moment, things remain unpredictable, but federal funding cutbacks and/or shifts to the states and localities might be in the offing. Departments of Education and Labor policy shifts are reasonable to expect given the conservative nominees President-elect Trump has put forward for Secretaries of Education and Labor. Betsy DeVos, nominee for Secretary of Education, is best known for championing the concept of “vouchers” that would enable parents to move their children out of public schools (see a November 23 Politico article), and we do not know how she will steer the Department with regard to the education of children with disabilities.
The nominee for Secretary of Labor, Andrew Puzder, has been critical of minimum wage increases and could conceivably roll back protections for workers including those with disabilities that he deems too expensive (see a December 8 New York Times article).
Already rumors are mounting regarding regulatory rollback as transition team requests begin coming in. Section 511 of WIOA (Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act), part of Title V, the Rehabilitation Act, has been mentioned. This section is new to the Act and implements limitations on the use of subminimum wages.
And, in accordance with the President-elect’s promise, we should prepare ourselves for an attempt to dissolve the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The implications for colleagues and clients who do not have employer- or government-sponsored health insurance are concerning; what is unknown is if the ACA will actually be dissolved and if so, how will the dissolution be carried out.
Pat Leahy of the National Rehabilitation Association writes in her newsletter of December 13, 2016, “While no one really knows what to expect with a new administration, like with previous administrations (both Democrat and Republican), I anticipate a number of bills to be introduced or reintroduced which will call for the elimination of duplicative programs and consolidation of other programs spanning a wide spectrum including very possibly Social Security programs, education programs, employment programs, health care programs (including Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program [CHIP]), among others .”
As we await the work of the new Congress, commencing on January 3, 2017, we can already see signs of the scrambling and also the laying back that happens when a current administration winds down. Eight days after the election, for example, Mark Richert, AFB Director of Public Policy, reported that the Federal Communications Commission has postponed rule-making on increasing the number of hours of described TV. He advises we take a “deep breath,” remember that this is usually what happens during a major transition, prepare ourselves to work with the upcoming administration and Congress, and be prepared to respond to issues quickly. Taking a “deep breath” also means recognizing that over the years our field has been supported (and occasionally disappointed) by both Democrats and Republicans, so while we should not overly prejudge, let’s remember to stay alert and ready to act.
Your Legislative Committee will be stepping up its attention and calls for action as things begin to unfold. We wish to advise all AER members that it is more important than ever to keep in touch with your federal and state representatives as issues evolve. Your voice must be heard. To that end, an easy way to locate your representatives is via the League of Women Voters. Another, perhaps more accessible, site is How to Contact Your Elected Officials.
Please look up your federal, state, and local representatives, store their email addresses in a convenient place and be ready to write to them when an important issue is at hand. Your Legislative Committee, AER staff and subject matter experts, and AER partners will keep you apprised of issues as they unfold.
Finally, your views must be expressed on Capitol Hill. Members of Congress and their legislative staffs are influenced by personal contact from their constituents. To that end, we urge you to join the American Foundation for the Blind’s visit to the Hill on March 1, just prior to the AFB Leadership/AER Virginia conference to defend the Cogswell-Macy Act, which will help assure that children who are blind or have low-vision will get the proper level of braille and low-vision service they need to function optimally in school.
To join your colleagues on the Hill, write to AFB’s Rebecca Sheffield at [email protected] to be added to an email update list for further details about the day’s schedule.