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President and Key Senate Leaders
Endorse Work Incentives Legislation

Chris Marshall 703-524-7600
For Immediate Release
13 Jan 99

Today, President Clinton formally announced that the Jeffords/Kennedy Work Incentives Improvement Act will be part of his FY 2000 budget proposal. In a White House ceremony, the President called on Congress to eliminate the barriers to work in the SSI/SSDI programs that prevent all people with disabilities, including people with serious brain disorders, from reaching their full potential. As readers of the NAMI E-News know, NAMI has been pushing hard for this legislation for many years in order to ensure that consumers do not have to choose between health coverage and work.

Equally as important as the President's endorsement was the agreement by Senators William Roth (R-DE) and Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) to cosponsor this legislation with Senators James Jeffords (R-VT) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA). Senators Roth and Moynihan are the Chairman and ranking member of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. This development is a major boost for the prospects of passage of the Work Incentives Improvement Act in 1999. NAMI advocates are urged to thank all four Senators and President Clinton for agreeing to make this measure a priority this year. Contact numbers can be obtained by going to the NAMI website,, and click on Write to Congress on the policy page.

Click here for NAMI executive director Laurie Flynn's statement on the day's events.

A Senate press release and a White House press release on the day's events:

United States Senate

For Immediate Release January 12, 1999


In a bipartisan effort to see that people with disabilities have access to the services they need to enter and stay in the workforce, Senators Jeffords (R-VT), Kennedy (D-MA), Roth (R-DE), and Moynihan (D-NY) will introduce the Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999.

"We have a simple goal with this legislation: helping Americans with disabilities go to work. Under current law, individuals with disabilities are actually punished if they want to work. The threat of losing federal health benefits is a powerful disincentive which prevents disabled people who want to work from entering the workforce," the sponsoring Senators said.

The proposed legislation is intended to remove two of the most serious barriers to the employment of people with disabilities by providing adequate and affordable health insurance when a person on SSI or SSDI goes to work, or develops a significant disability while working; and a user-friendly, public-private approach to job training and placement assistance for individuals with disabilities who want to work.

More than 8 million adults from ages 16-64 receive benefits under federal disability programs, and the number continues to grow annually. Fewer than 1/2 of 1% of those on the disability rolls actually work, even though a 1998 Harris survey found that 72% of these Americans want to work.

The sponsoring Senators added, "We intend to make 1999 the year that Congress fulfills the dream of all Americans with disabilities to be a part of our Nation's workforce and growing economy."

The Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 will be introduced in late January, with a mark-up in the Senate Finance Committee targeted for early spring.

January 13, 1999

Today, President Clinton will unveil a historic new initiative that will remove significant barriers to work for people with disabilities. This three-part budget initiative, which invests over $2 billion over five years, includes: (1) full funding of the Work Incentives Improvement Act which will be introduced by Senators Jeffords, Kennedy, Roth, and Moynihan next week; (2) a new $1,000 tax credit to cover work-related costs for people with disabilities; and (3) expanded access to information and communications technologies. With these new proposals, the Administration will have taken action on every recommendation made in the report of the Presidentís Task Force on the Employment of Adults with Disabilities, which the Vice President accepted last month. Justin Dart, one of the foremost leaders of the disability communities, stated in response to todayís proposals: "The Clinton-Gore Administration has a long history of supporting the disability community. This policy initiative is one of the boldest since the landmark passage of the ADA."


Since President Clinton took office, the American economy has added 17.7 million new jobs, and unemployment is at a 29-year low of 4.3 percent. The unemployment rate among all working-age adults with disabilities, however, is nearly 75 percent. According to current estimates, about 1.6 million working-age adults have a disability that leads to functional limitations and 14 million working-age adults have less severe but still significant disabilities.

People with disabilities can bring tremendous energy and talent to the American workforce, but institutional barriers often limit their ability to work. Most critically, people with disabilities often become ineligible for Medicaid or Medicare if they work. This means that many people with disabilities are put in the untenable position of choosing between health care coverage and work. In addition, advances in technology and communications are often not accessible to people with disabilities.


Funding the Work Incentives Improvement Act in the Presidentís budget. Health care -- particularly prescription drugs and personal assistance -- is essential for people with disabilities to work. Today, the President is announcing that his FY 2000 budget will fund the full cost of the Work Incentives Improvement Act. This proposal, which costs $1.2 billion over 5 years, would:

Improve access to health care by:

  • Expanding statesí ability to provide a Medicaid buy-in to people with disabilities who return to work. This provision would enable states to offer the buy-in to people whose assets and/or income exceed current limits. It also would give states the option of offering the buy-in to people with medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, who do not meet the current disability standard, but who can work only because of medical treatment. Finally, this provision would give health care grants to those that do so.

  • Extending Medicare coverage, for the first time, for people with disabilities who return to work. Although Medicare does not provide as comprehensive a benefit as Medicaid, this aspect of the proposal ensures that all people with disabilities who return to work have access to health care coverage, even if they live in a state that does not take the Medicaid option.

  • Creating a new Medicaid buy-in demonstration to help people with a specific physical or mental impairment that is not yet severe enough to qualify for health care assistance, but that is reasonably expected to lead to a severe disability in the absence of medical treatment. This demonstration could help people with muscular dystrophy, Parkinsonís Disease, HIV or diabetes who are able to work with appropriate health care.

  • Modernize the vocational rehabilitation system by creating a "ticket" that will enable SSI or SSDI beneficiaries to go to any of a number of public or private providers for vocational rehabilitation. If the beneficiary goes to work and achieves substantial earnings, providers would be paid a portion of the benefits saved.

  • Create a Work Incentive Grant program to provide benefits planning and assistance, facilitate access to information about work incentives, and better integrate services to people with disabilities working or returning to work.

  • Providing a $1,000 tax credit for work-related expenses for people with disabilities. The daily costs of getting to and from work, and being effective at work, can be high if not prohibitive for people with disabilities. Under this new proposal, workers with significant disabilities would receive an annual $1,000 tax credit to help cover the formal and informal costs that are associated with employment, such as special transportation and technology. Like the Jeffords-Kennedy Work Incentive Act, this tax credit, which will assist 200,000 to 300,000 Americans, will help ensure that people with disabilities have the tools they need to return to work. The credit will cost $700 million over 5 years.

  • Improving access to assistive technology. Technology is often not adapted for people with disabilities and even when it is, people with disabilities may not be able to afford it. This new initiative would accelerate the development and adoption of information and communications technologies that can improve the quality of life for people with disabilities and enhance their ability to participate in the workplace. The initiative would: (1) help make the Federal government a "model user" of assistive technology; (2) support new and expanded state loan programs to make assistive technology more affordable for Americans with disabilities; and (3) invest in research and development and technology transfer in areas such as "text to speech" for people who are blind, automatic captioning for people who are deaf, and speech recognition and eye tracking for people who canít use a keyboard. It would cost $35 million in FY 2000, more than double the governmentís current investment in deploying assistive technology.

With these steps, the Administration has taken action on all Task Force Recommendations. In December, the Vice President accepted the report of the Presidentís Task Force on the Employment of Adults with Disabilities, took action on some of their recommendations, and pledged that the Administration would review others in the budget process. With the new steps taken today, as well as an announcement that Mrs. Gore will make tomorrow, the Administration has taken action on all the Task Force formal recommendations:

  • Work to pass the Work Incentive Improvement Act --included in Adminstrationís budget.

  • Work to pass a strong Patientsí Bill of Rights --high Administration priority.

  • Examine tax options to assist with expenses of work --included in Administrationís budget.

  • Foster interdisciplinary consortia for employment services --included in Administrationís budget.

  • Accelerate development and adoption of assistive technology --included in Administrationís budget.

  • Direct Small Business Administration to expand outreach --Vice President announced in December.

  • Remove Federal hiring barriers for people with mental illness --Mrs. Gore will unveil tomorrow.

  • Direct OPM to develop model plan for Federal hiring of people with disabilities --Vice President unveiled in December.