National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Senators Grassley And Kennedy Introduce The Family Opportunity Act Of 2000

Action Needed To Further Support

For Immediate Release, March 27, 2000
Contact: Chris Marshall

Too often, families are forced to give up custody of their children to obtain health care services for them. NAMI welcomes the Family Opportunity Act of 2000 (S. 2274) as a measure that will help put an end to this horrible choice for loving and caring families in which there has been no abuse or neglect.

NAMI commends Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) for their vision in following enactment of the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act (TWWIIA) with the introduction of similar legislation to allow many more families to escape the problem of "job lock." Introduced March 22 and referred to the Senate Finance Committee, this legislation offers stability and recovery to children with severe and chronic disabling disorders, including early-onset mental illnesses. In a show of bipartisan support, Senators Grassley and Kennedy were joined by Senators Jim Jeffords (R-VT), Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) and Jack Reed (D-RI) as original cosponsors of the bill.

Mental illnesses are biological brain disorders, and must be treated equally with disabilities involving any other bodily organ or system. Health insurance plans must not discriminate in amount, duration, or scope between mental illnesses and other diagnoses.

NAMI knows only too well the terrible choices families must make. Through years of paying medical and support expenses beyond their health plan coverage's for their ill children, many families have lost homes, savings for their children's higher education, for their retirement, and nearly lost hope.

The Family Opportunity Act restores hope. It maintains family responsibility for the provision of care to a disabled child by requiring states which choose this proposed Medicaid option to charge families on a sliding scale with maximum out-of-pocket limits adjusted to income. It puts an end to the current, intolerable situation in which families are crushed financially. It is a well-considered first step. S. 2274 also allows states to treat children not yet meeting the criteria for SSI but at risk for disability.

Approximately 1 million children are enrolled in the Supplemental Security Income program in any given year, having satisfied the stringent criteria for childhood disability. More than 250,000 are disabled by mental disorders other than retardation. If family incomes increase by too much, these children lose their SSI and Medicaid benefits. The policy creates an enormous, virtually insurmountable, disincentive for families with chronically ill children, who risk losing health coverage for their children if they try to improve their family's financial position.

The bill summary cites a recent 20-state survey which reported that 64 percent of families with special needs children "are turning down jobs, turning down raises, turning down overtime, and are unable to save money for the future of their children and family-so that they can stay in the income bracket that qualifies their child for SSI and Medicaid." Consequently, fewer than one in twenty-five of these families ever leave the SSI rolls through upward economic mobility.


All NAMI members and advocates are urged to contact members of the Senate Finance and Budget Committees (listed below) and encourage those members to support and cosponsor S. 2274, The Family Opportunity Act of 2000, to end the financial devastation families encounter attempting to provide healthcare for their children with severe mental illnesses. All members of Congress can be reached by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 or by going to the policy page of the NAMI website at and click on "Write to Congress."

Senate Finance Committee

Republicans (11)

William V. Roth Jr., Del. - chairman
Charles E. Grassley, Iowa
Orrin G. Hatch, Utah
Frank H. Murkowski, Alaska
Don Nickles, Okla.
Phil Gramm, Texas
Trent Lott, Miss.
James M. Jeffords, Vt.
Connie Mack, Fla.
Fred Thompson, Tenn.
Paul Coverdell, Ga.

Democrats (9)

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, N.Y. - ranking member
Max Baucus, Mont.
John D. Rockefeller IV, W.Va.
John B. Breaux, La.
Kent Conrad, N.D.
Bob Graham, Fla.
Richard H. Bryan, Nev.
Bob Kerrey, Neb.
Charles S. Robb, Va.

Senate Budget Committee


Pete Domenici, NM - Chairman
Chuck Grassley, IA
Don Nickles, OK
Phil Gramm, TX
Christopher Bond, MO
Slade Gorton, WA
Judd Gregg, NH
Olympia Snowe, ME
Spencer Abraham, MI
William Frist, TN
Rod Grams, MN
Gordon Smith, OR


Frank Lautenberg, NJ - Ranking Member
Ernest Hollings, SC
Kent Conrad, ND
Paul Sarbanes, MD
Barbara Boxer, CA
Patty Murray, WA
Ron Wyden, OR
Russell Feingold, WI
Tim Johnson, SD
Richard Durbin, IL