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Washington DC Update 4/20/22
Congress remains on Easter/Passover recess until the end of the week.
From the Administration
Equity: White House Convening and Agency plans
On Thursday, April 14th the White House held a Virtual Equity Convening (Youtube link to convening) as more than 90 federal agencies—including all Cabinet-level agencies—release their first-ever Equity Action Plans, as called for in President Biden’s historic Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.

This White House Fact Sheet includes links to all the Department Equity Plans.

HHS Equity Plan
Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra and the co-chairs of the department’s Health Disparities Council—Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Rachel Levine and the Acting Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation Rebecca Haffajee—released the HHS’ new Equity Action Plan - PDF to advance equity in the delivery of health and human services.

To learn more about HHS’ Equity Action Plan, and other actions HHS is taking to advance equity for all communities, visit: https://www.hhs.gov/equity/index.html.

SSA: Resume In Person Services at Local Offices
Please read this Social Security Administration (SSA) Announcement for more information about this resumption of local in-person service.

HHS: Medical Debt
On Monday, April 11, 2022, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra joined Vice President Kamala Harris and other Administration officials at the White House to deliver remarks at an event focused on new actions the Biden-Harris Administration is taking to lessen medical debt and protect consumers. HHS released the following letter to grantees - PDF about the efforts that the Department will initiate. The event is part of the Administration’s work to reduce burdens and barriers imposed by medical debt advanced in its Executive Order 14070 on Continuing to Strengthen Americans’ Access to Affordable, Quality Health Coverage.

FCC Request for Comments: Prevent Digital Discrimination
Access to broadband is critical for children and families who rely on it for telehealth medical visits, communications assistance to participate in their communities and stay in touch with family and friends. Section 60506 of the Infrastructure and Jobs Act directs the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the agency responsible for regulating the internet broadband industry, to issue rules implementing the law to “facilitate equal access to broadband” and prevent “digital discrimination of access [to broadband] based on income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin.” 

In the Notice of Inquiry the agency is specifically requesting feedback on several issues as it develops its proposed rule including:

  • How to define discrimination in the context of the rule and access to broadband. The rule also seeks input on a variety of other terms and concepts including “equal access.”
  • Whether to adopt rules that broadly prohibit digital discrimination, or simply encourage and incentive entities to take certain steps to prevent digital discrimination.
  • How to best identify cases of digital discrimination and potential data sources it could rely upon.

Comments are due May 16th. People with disabilities who need assistance to file comments may request assistance by email to FCC504@fcc.gov.

CMS: Quarterly Stakeholder Call
When:  April 26, 2022 from 3:30 PM (ET) – 4:30 PM (ET)
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator, Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, and her leadership team will provide updates on the CMS Strategic Vision and key accomplishments during the first quarter of 2022. The Administrator’s vision is for CMS to serve the public as a trusted partner and steward dedicated to advancing health equity, expanding coverage, and improving health outcomes as we engage the communities we serve throughout the policymaking and implementation process. All are invited to join for this third national stakeholder call to learn more about how you can partner with CMS as they implement their vision. 

CMS: Office of Minority Health Equity Symposium
When: Wednesday, April 28 1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. ET
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Office of Minority Health (CMS OMH) will host a Health Equity Symposium to discuss how CMS is operationalizing health equity across all its programs including Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the Health Insurance Marketplaces.
During the symposium, CMS OMH will cover HHS and CMS equity plans initiatives, including the importance of data collection, the connection to stakeholder and partner efforts to improve health equity, and additional health equity information and updates from CMS.

ACL: 10th Birthday Celebration
Administration for Community Living (ACL) was established on April 18, 2012, bringing together federal advocacy for older adults and people with disabilities, along with most federal human services programs for older adults and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The agency grew quickly with the transfer of programs with similar missions from other agencies, including independent living, assistive technology, and traumatic brain injury programs; paralysis and limb-loss resource centers; programs that help people navigate their Medicare benefits and the health care system; and the federal government’s primary disability research organization. To commemorate the first ten years – and look ahead to all ACL can achieve in our next decade – ACL is kicking of a season of celebration!

Please mark your calendars and plan to join (virtually) on Tuesday, April 26 from 1-2:30 p.m. (EDT) for the first event. ACL’s co-founders – Kathy Greenlee, Sharon Lewis, and Henry Claypool – will talk about the vision they had when they created ACL in 2012, some of ACL’s early accomplishments, and how ACL can build on the strong foundation laid in its first decade to establish and support a national expectation of community living.

A second panel will look to the future of community living, with a focus on building partnerships and collaboration. Moderated by Grace Whiting, Executive Director of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, the panel will feature three leaders from the Care Can’t Wait coalition:

  • Ai-jen Poo, Co-founder and Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance
  • Kevin Prindiville, Executive Director of Justice in Aging
  • Maria Town, President and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities

No registration is required – you can join the livestream at HHS.gov/live.
Other Policy-Related Items of Interest
Settlement Agreement of Interest: Rhode Island Parents with Disabilities
The Rhode Island Department of Children and Families has agreed to a settlement after complaints of discrimination by parents with disabilities, including complaints that the state failed to provide communications accommodations.
The voluntary settlement agreement with the Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights and the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island requires the state to take a comprehensive approach to addressing the complaints of parents who are deaf or hearing impaired, parents with I/DD, and other parents with disabilities. This settlement agreement is a strong reminder to all states of their responsibilities under federal disability laws, especially in actions that can impact family unity.

More information:
  • The Rhode Island parents alleged that the state failed to provide communications accommodations such as qualified ASL interpreters for deaf parents, including in situations involving the removal of children from their homes. Parents also alleged that the state based conclusions about their parental capacity on assumptions about their disabilities, all actions which are illegal under federal disability rights laws.
  • As a part of the settlement, the state must create and implement a policy on communicating effectively with individuals who have communication disabilities, provide training to all personnel on federal civil rights laws and accommodations for individuals with disabilities, designate an Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator, and report quarterly for three years.

Webinar of Interest: Future of MH Coverage and Access
Increased social isolation, stress, and unemployment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have contributed to a rise in mental health issues and substance use disorders (SUD) in the U.S. The impact of the pandemic has been particularly concerning for kids, as KFF’s most recent COVID Vaccine Monitor reported that over half of parents say the pandemic has hurt their children’s mental health.

Government actions such as federal and state emergency declarations and the passage of legislation including The American Rescue Plan have sought to address these crises in the short-term. However, recognizing the need for long-term solutions, members of Congress from both parties and President Biden have indicated a desire to address the systemic issues surrounding mental health and substance use disorder care.

On Tuesday, April 26th at 12pm ET, a panel of experts will join series moderator Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation in a 45-minute discussion exploring the future of mental health policy, including continuing enforcement challenges related to mental health parity and potential policy actions that could help improve access to mental health and substance use disorder (SUD) care. Register HERE.

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Family Voices is a national organization and grassroots network of families and friends of children and youth with special health care needs and disabilities that promotes partnership with families--including those of cultural, linguistic and geographic diversity--in order to improve healthcare services and policies for children.