Before the U.S. House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations, Ralph Regula, Chairman
April 26, 2001
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:
Thank you for the opportunity to present and discuss the President's fiscal year 2002 budget request for the Special Education and the Rehabilitation Services and Disability Research accounts administered by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.
While much has been done to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities, significant barriers still exist. People with disabilities continue to strive for the same goals that many other Americans do, such as a high quality education, meaningful employment, and active lives within their communities. Unfortunately, on average, Americans with disabilities have a lower level of educational attainment, are poorer, and are more likely to be unemployed than those without disabilities. In today's global economy, America must be able to draw on the talents and creativity of all of its citizens.
The Administration is committed to the principle that all Americans should have the opportunity to learn and develop skills, engage in productive work, choose where to live, and participate in community life. The 2002 budget request that I present today supports the goals of the Administration's New Freedom Initiative to help individuals with disabilities by expanding educational opportunities, increasing the ability of individuals with disabilities to integrate into the workforce, increasing access to assistive technologies, and promoting increased community access. It also is an integral part of an overall education funding effort to ensure that no child is left behind.
The 2002 Budget Request
The Administration's budget focuses much needed resources that will enhance opportunities for millions of America's individuals with disabilities. Overall, the proposed budget of $11.4 billion represents an increase of $1.1 billion, or 10.8 percent, over the fiscal year 2001 budget for the Special Education and the Rehabilitation Services and Disability Research accounts. The request includes the largest single increase ever submitted by a President for funding to assist States and schools in covering the excess costs of providing special education and related services to children with disabilities. The proposed budget includes increased funding to expand employment opportunities through vocational rehabilitation and through a new program that would provide loans to individuals with disabilities to purchase computers and other equipment needed to work from home. The request also makes a significant new investment in developing assistive technologies and making them available to individuals with disabilities.
The Administration's is requesting $8.4 billion for Special Education to support activities authorized by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This is a 13.2 percent increase over the 2001 appropriation level. We believe that the request will further improve services to disabled students in the classroom through improved instruction and support services [as well as provide needed fiscal support to States and schools].
Grants to States
The Department is requesting $7.34 billion for the Grants to States program to assist States and schools in covering the excess costs of providing special education and related services to children with disabilities ages 3 through 21. This is a $1 billion (15.8 percent) increase over the fiscal year 2001 appropriation of $6.34 billion. This level of funding would provide an average of about $1,133 for each of the 6.466 million children with disabilities estimated to require services for 2002. In addition to providing for increased costs resulting from more children being served and inflation, the requested increase would boost the Federal contribution from 15 percent of the national average per pupil expenditure to 17 percent. This is the highest level of Federal contribution in the history of the program.
The Administration proposes to discontinue the recent practice of making a portion of the appropriated funds available on October 1 of the succeeding fiscal year. Therefore, the entire fiscal year 2002 request of $7.34 billion is proposed as an annual appropriation; no advance appropriation is requested.
For the Preschool Grants program, $390 million is requested, the same amount as appropriated in fiscal year 2001. Funding under the Preschool Grants program supplements funds provided to States under the Grant to States program for children with disabilities aged 3 through 5 and funds services needed to prepare young children with disabilities to enter and succeed in school.Grants for Infants and Families
The request of $383.6 million for the Grants for Infants and Families program would maintain funding for early intervention services for infants and toddlers from birth through age 2 and their families at the fiscal year 2001 appropriation level. Funding under the Grants for Infants and Families program is used to implement family focused service systems, coordinate early intervention services on a statewide basis, and provide critical services that otherwise would not be available.
The $312.3 million requested for the six National Activities programs is a decrease of $14.4 million from the 2001 level. These programs support a variety of research, demonstrations, training, technical assistance, technology, media, and other activities to help States, schools, teachers, and families to improve results for infants, toddlers, and children with disabilities. The decreases are proposed for the Research and Innovation program and the Technology and Media Services program. Most of the decreases in these programs reflect the elimination of funding for awards that will be made noncompetitively in 2001 based on appropriation earmarks. The IDEA requires that awards be made on a competitive basis.
For Research and Innovation, the Department is requesting $70 million, a decrease of $7.4 million from the amount available in 2001, to support research, demonstration, and outreach activities to improve results for infants, toddlers, and children with disabilities. This decrease reflects the elimination of funding for nine awards that will be made noncompetitively in 2001 based on appropriation earmarks.
The Technology and Media Services program develops and promotes technology to improve results for children with disabilities and provides media services, such as describing videos and captioning television. A decrease in funding of $7 million is proposed for this program, from $38.7 million to $31.7 million. The decrease reflects the termination of funding totaling $5 million for appropriation earmarks dealing with recording textbooks and dissemination of information. The request also excludes $2 million for support of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. This decrease is offset by an increased SBIR funding for the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research program. These funds will be used to support the Assistive Technology Development Fund, which will work with small businesses to bring new assistive technologies to market to address the needs of individuals with disabilities.
Funding for the remaining National Activities programs would be maintained at their 2001 levels. These programs include State Improvement ($49.2 million), Technical Assistance and Dissemination ($53.5 million), Personnel Preparation ($82 million), and Parent Information Centers ($26 million).
Rehabilitation Services And Disability Research
The Administration is requesting $2.9 billion, a $124.8 million increase, for the Rehabilitation Services and Disability Research account. The request supports the goal of the Administration's New Freedom Initiative to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to learn and develop skills, engage in productive work, choose where to live and participate in community life.
The Administration is requesting $2.5 billion for Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) State Grants to assist State VR agencies to increase the participation of individuals with disabilities in the labor force. The increase of $81.6 million, or 3.4 percent, is the amount needed to satisfy the statutory requirement to increase funding by at least the percentage change in the Consumer Price Index.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey (March 2000) show that among working age (16-64 years of age) individuals with a work disability, only 27.6 percent are employed compared to 78.6 percent of working age adults without a work disability. Among people with a severe work disability, only 8.3 percent are employed. The VR State Grants program is the primary Federal vehicle for assisting individuals with disabilities, particularly individuals with the most significant disabilities to prepare for, obtain, or retain employment. Nationally, there are currently about 1.2 million individuals with disabilities in various phases of the vocational rehabilitation process within the VR system.
The Vocational Rehabilitation program has undergone significant changes that have presented new challenges to State VR agencies. Changes in the eligibility process have increased the number of eligible individuals in the VR system and the percentage of individuals with significant disabilities served by the system, which in fiscal year 2000, was 86.5 percent. Despite this challenge, the program is assisting greater numbers of individuals to achieve their employment goals. In 2000, VR agencies assisted 236,210 individuals to achieve an employment outcome, 87 percent of who were individuals with significant disabilities. Our goal is to continue to improve both the number and quality of these outcomes.Technology
Technology can dramatically improve the lives of individuals with disabilities, and make it possible for them to engage in productive work and more fully participate in society. The Administration's 2002 request includes new investments to expand research in and access to assistive and universally designed technologies and to increase access to telecommuting for individuals with disabilities who may need more flexible work settings in order to participate in the labor force.
The request includes a $9.6 million increase over the 2001 appropriation for the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). The request would expand support for the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers (RERC) program, establish the Assistive Technology Development Fund, and strengthen the Interagency Committee on Disability Research. The increase for RERCs would build upon the major investment the Nation has made in the basic physical and biomedical sciences and engineering to promote the design and development of innovative technologies to allow individuals with disabilities to achieve greater independence in all facets of life. Similarly, the $5 million Assistive Technology Development Fund would help stimulate technological innovation in the private sector and strengthen the role of small businesses in meeting Federal research and development needs. Finally, funding for the Interagency Committee on Disability Research at a level of $3 million would promote greater cooperation across various government agencies in the development and execution of disability and rehabilitation research activities.
The Administration requests $40 million for the Alternative Financing Program under Title III of the Assistive Technology (AT) Act, an increase of $25 million over the 2001 appropriation. Funds for this program are used to provide grants to States to establish or maintain loan programs for individuals with disabilities to purchase needed assistive technology devices or services. Assistive technology can dramatically improve the quality of life for individuals with disabilities and their ability to engage in productive employment. However, assistive technologies can be prohibitively expensive and most people with disabilities do not have the private financial resources to purchase the assistive technology they need. Loan programs offer individuals with disabilities attractive options that significantly enhance their access to assistive technology.
The request includes $20 million for the Access to Telework Fund to increase employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities through greater access to computers and other equipment needed to work from home if they choose. The program would provide Federal matching funds through discretionary grants to States to provide loans for individuals with disabilities to purchase computers and other equipment so that they are able to take advantage of telework opportunities.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, we believe that this budget request is an important step forward in our continuing efforts to improve the lives of millions of Americans with disabilities and their families. The President is committed to ensuring that no child is left behind. We must continue to work together to enable people with disabilities to obtain an education, to find meaningful work, and to lead fulfilling and independent lives.
I ask your support for this budget proposal. My colleagues and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.