National Alliance on Mental Illness
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The Family Opportunity Act of 2000, S 2274, Needs Your Push During The Spring Recess

For Immediate Release, April 17, 2000
Contact: Chris Marshall

The Senate is in recess from April 17 through April 24. Many Senators will be home in their states meeting with constituents. The Family Support Act is an important policy improvement for families with children and adolescents suffering from a severe mental illness. For it to move through the Senate it needs more sponsors, and it needs to be considered and reported out to the Senate floor by the Finance Committee.


Please contact your Senators through their home offices in your state (The phone numbers should be in the blue pages of your phone book, or at Tell the staff there that you would like the Senator to co-sponsor the bill, and to ask the Finance Committee Chairman, Senator Roth, to "mark-up" the bill and report it out favorably.

If you discover that one of your Senators is holding a town meeting or other public forum and you have the chance to attend, you can make these requests in person.


NAMI knows only too well the terrible choices families must make. Through years of paying medical and support expenses beyond their health plan's coverage 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 child who meets the disability criteria for Supplemental Security Income---whether or not the child is actually enrolled in SSI. It does this by requiring families to first purchase the family coverage tier (if offered) of their employers' health plan. States which choose this proposed Medicaid option must also charge families on a sliding scale with maximum out-of-pocket limits adjusted to income. (The out-of-pocket limits would include both the family contribution to the employer plan, and the buy-in to Medicaid.)

Introduced March 22 and referred to the Finance Committee, this legislation offers stability and recovery to children with severe and chronic disabling disorders, including early-onset mental illnesses. 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.

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 members should thank Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA), together with Senators Jim Jeffords (R-VT) Daniel Moynihan (D-NY), and Jack Reed (D-RI) for their initial co-sponsorship. In a show of bipartisan cooperation, they put forth their vision in following the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act (TWWIIA) with the introduction of this similar legislation to allow many more families to escape the problem of "job lock."

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.

Approximately 850,000 children are enrolled in the Supplemental Security Income program at any given time, having satisfied the stringent criteria for childhood disability. Nearly 220,000 of these children are disabled by mental disorders other than retardation. If family incomes increase by too much, these children lose their SSI and Medicaid eligibility. This policy creates an enormous, virtually insurmountable, disincentive for parents with chronically ill children, who risk losing health coverage for their children if they try to improve the family's financial position.


In addition to asking ALL Senators to 1) co-sponsor the bill and to 2) urge the Finance Committee to report it favorably, you can express appreciation to your Senators who are Members of the Budget Committee. They agreed unanimously to put money into the Budget Resolution for this bill. They should be easier to convince on the co-sponsorship matter after this show of solid support.

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