[Federal Register: June 5, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 108)]
[Notices]               
[Page 35767-35770]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
[DOCID:fr05jn00-137]                         


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Part III

Department of Education
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National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitative Services; Office of 
Special Education and Rehabilitative Services; Notices


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DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION

 
National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research; 
Notice of Funding Priorities

AGENCY: Department of Education.

ACTION: Notice of final funding priorities for fiscal years 2000-2001 
for new awards for the Alternative Financing Program, and the 
Alternative Financing Technical Assistance Program, both authorized 
under Title III of the Assistive Technology Act of 1998.

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SUMMARY: The Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education 
and Rehabilitative Services announces final funding priorities for 
awards under the Alternative Financing Program (AFP) and one award 
under the Alternative Financing Technical Assistance Program (AFTAP) 
under the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research 
(NIDRR) for fiscal years 2000-2001. The Assistant Secretary takes this 
action in order to award grants or cooperative agreements to States to 
establish or maintain alternative financing projects to increase access 
to assistive technology (AT) for individuals with disabilities. 
Currently, major service programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, special 
education, and vocational rehabilitation cannot meet the growing demand 
for AT. Most individuals with disabilities do not have the private 
financial resources to purchase the AT they need. Loan programs offer 
individuals with disabilities attractive options that significantly 
enhance their access to AT.

DATES: These priorities take effect on August 4, 2000.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Donna Nangle, U.S. Department of 
Education, 400 Maryland Avenue, SW., Room 3414, Switzer Building, 
Washington, DC 20202-2645. Telephone: (202) 205-5880. Individuals who 
use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the TDD 
number at (202) 205-4475. Internet: Donna_Nangle@ed.gov.
    Individuals with disabilities may obtain this document in an 
alternate format (e.g., Braille, large print, audiotape, or computer 
diskette) on request to the contact person listed in the preceding 
paragraph.

Waiver of Rulemaking

    Pursuant to section 437(d)(1) of the General Education Provisions 
Act, the Assistant Secretary has determined that these priorities are 
exempt from the Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. 553). Section 
437(d)(1) exempts from rulemaking the first grant competition under a 
new or substantially revised program authority. This is NIDRR's first 
grant competition under the ATAct, which replaced the Technology-
Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988, as 
amended (Tech Act), and was signed into law on November 13, 1998.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: This notice contains two final priorities 
authorized under the ATAct. The priorities are: (1) Alternative 
Financing Program (AFP); and (2) Alternative Financing Technical 
Assistance Program (AFTAP).
    These final priorities support the National Education Goal that 
calls for all Americans to possess the knowledge and skills necessary 
to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and 
responsibilities of citizenship.
    The authority for the Secretary to fund a financing program and 
technical assistance (TA) program is contained in Title III of the 
ATAct.

    Note: This notice of final priorities does not solicit 
applications. A notice inviting applications under this competition 
will be published in the Federal Register concurrent with or 
following the publication of the notice of final priorities.

Alternative Financing Program

Background

    For the first time, NIDRR is funding the Alternative Financing 
Program, authorized under Title III of the ATAct. The AFP will assist 
States to establish or maintain alternative financing projects to 
increase access to AT for individuals with disabilities.
    The ATAct reaffirms the Federal role of promoting access to AT 
devices and services for individuals with disabilities and continues 
the AT State Grant Program, authorized under Title I of the ATAct of 
1998. In 1988 Congress passed the Tech Act to assist States to identify 
and respond to the AT needs of individuals with disabilities. 
Reauthorized in 1994, the Tech Act provided Federal funds as a catalyst 
for permanent systemic change and as leverage within States to make AT 
devices and services more readily available to individuals with 
disabilities. All of the 56 State grantees (50 States, District of 
Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Virgin Islands, Northern 
Marianna, Guam) have demonstrated success in increasing availability 
of, funding for, access to and provision of, AT devices and services. 
On a State level, AT State Grant Program grantees have improved 
delivery of AT to individuals with disabilities.
    Most often, these efforts involve increased and measurable 
responsiveness on the part of public purchasing systems to provide AT 
devices and services for individuals with disabilities. Public systems 
include, but are not limited to, Medicaid, Medicare, special education 
and vocational rehabilitation. These public systems have, to varying 
degrees, acknowledged and met the AT needs of individuals with 
disabilities who qualify for the particular program.
    The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, includes several 
provisions requiring inclusion of AT devices and services among the 
range of available services offered by the vocational rehabilitation 
system. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has 
included AT devices and services since 1990. IDEA requires school 
districts to take AT into account in their evaluations and planning for 
students with disabilities. For eligible recipients, Medicaid offers a 
viable though often unpredictable funding source. Some States have 
investigated ways to increase the responsiveness of private insurance 
companies to the AT needs of privately insured individuals with 
disabilities. For individuals who qualify, the aforementioned public 
and private agencies should, and typically would be, approached to fund 
AT devices and services.
    In 1998, NIDRR sponsored five regional hearings on issues affecting 
appropriate and timely access to AT devices and services. (Blueprint 
for the Millennium: An Analysis of Regional Hearings, 1998) In each of 
the hearings, financing of AT was cited as a persistent barrier as was 
a general lack of knowledge about public and private financing options. 
Testimony from consumers, families, service providers, and developers 
referenced a need for financial incentives for both individuals and 
businesses to improve AT use. The hearings also identified the need for 
new funding strategies and models to expand funds for AT purchases. 
Public testimony also indicated that AT users want maximum autonomy in 
identifying their technology needs and the devices and services that 
will best meet these needs.
    Moreover, testimony emphasized that separately, or in combination, 
the major service programs do not have sufficient resources to meet the 
growing demand for AT and that there also is a lack of private 
financial resources for the purchase of AT. As the number of 
individuals with disabilities increases and the elderly population 
expands, and as consumers and their families become increasingly aware 
of the role and

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benefits of AT, the demand for AT will increase; the result will 
continue to be a tremendous strain on public and private third party 
funding sources. A significant recommendation of the hearings was that 
the AT State Grant Program grantees continue to work with other 
entities such as consumer organizations, community-based groups, and 
private lending institutions to establish alternative financing 
projects for the purchase of AT devices and services. Alternative 
financing projects offer individuals with disabilities attractive 
options and can serve as financing alternatives for individuals with 
disabilities who do not qualify for public financing programs. Loan 
programs enhance access to AT devices and services in a way that 
underscores independence and inclusion.
    Currently, a total of 32 AT State Grant Program grantees operate 
alternative financing projects under Title I. The success of these 
Title I alternative financing projects has stimulated interest in 
creating opportunities for additional States to establish alternative 
financing projects and for States that have an existing projects to 
expand available resources. Currently, individuals who apply for loans 
under the Title I AT State Grant Program alternative financing projects 
obtain loans that range from $250 to $50,000. The estimated average 
loan is between $5,000 and $7,500. (Wallace, J., Assistive Technology 
Loan Financing: A Funding Alternative of Increasing Importance. Tech 
Express, 1998). The Title I AT State Grant Program alternative 
financing projects include various types of activities, such as 
revolving, guaranteed, interest buy-down, traditional or combination 
program models. States typically enter into an agreement with a private 
lending institution such as a bank or credit union and involve 
consumers in the selection and approval procedures.
    In establishing the AFP, the Assistant Secretary recognizes that 
significant challenges and barriers continue to face individuals with 
disabilities and their families. A pervasive barrier is the absence of 
funding and information about funding opportunities for AT devices and 
services. The AFP will enable individuals with disabilities to access a 
funding alternative to public assistance programs. NIDRR has $3.9 
million available for awards under this program in fiscal year 2000 and 
the President has requested $15 million for fiscal year 2001.

Description of the Alternative Financing Program

    The AFP creates a new Federal program to pay a share of the cost of 
establishment or expansion, and administration of, an alternative AT 
financing program. The program features one or more alternative 
financing mechanisms to allow individuals with disabilities and their 
family members, guardians, advocates, and others to purchase AT devices 
and services.

Priorities

    Under 34 CFR 75.105(c)(3) and Title III of the ATAct, the Assistant 
Secretary gives an absolute preference to applications that meet the 
following priorities. The Assistant Secretary will fund under this 
competition only applications that meet one of the following 
priorities.

Priority 1: Alternative Financing Program

    The Assistant Secretary establishes the AFP in order to provide 
assistance to States so that individuals with disabilities of all ages 
and their family members, guardians, advocates, and authorized 
representatives will have increased access to funding for AT devices 
and services through alternative financing mechanisms (loans). 
Consistent with statutory requirements:
    (a) The State must enter into a contract with a community-based 
organization (including a group of such organizations), such as Centers 
for Independent Living, that has individuals with disabilities involved 
in organizational decision making at all organizational levels, to 
administer the alternative-financing program. The contract shall: (1) 
Include a provision requiring that the program funds, including the 
Federal and non-Federal shares of the cost of the program, be 
administered in a manner consistent with the provisions of this title; 
(2) include provisions for oversight and evaluation to protect Federal 
financial interests; and (3) require the community-based organization 
to enter into a contract with a commercial lending institution or State 
financing agency.
    (b) The State that receives a grant and any community-based 
organization that enters into a contract with the State, must annually 
submit, 12 months after receipt of the fiscal year 2000 award, each of 
the following policies, procedures, data, and information: (1) A 
procedure to review and process in a timely manner requests for 
financial assistance for immediate and potential technology needs, 
including consideration of methods to reduce paperwork and duplication 
of effort, particularly relating to need, eligibility, and 
determination of the specific AT device or service to be financed 
through the project; (2) A policy and procedure to assure that access 
to the AFP shall be given to consumers regardless of type of 
disability, age, income level, location of residence in the State, or 
type of AT device or AT service for which financing is requested 
through the program; and (3) A procedure to assure consumer-controlled 
oversight of the program.
    (c) The State must provide the following information: (1) The ratio 
of funds provided by the State for the AFP to funds provided by the 
Federal Government; (2) the type of alternative financing mechanism 
used and the community-based organization with which the State entered 
into a contract; (3) the following information concerning each disabled 
individual served by the project: The amount of assistance, type of AT 
device or AT service financed through the project, type of disability, 
age, gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, primary language, 
geographic location within the State, employment status, whether the 
consumer is part of an underrepresented population or rural population, 
and whether the consumer tried to secure financial support from other 
sources and, if so, a description of those sources.
    (d) The State must provide one or a combination of the following: 
(1) A low-interest loan fund; (2) an interest buy-down program,) a 
revolving loan fund; (4) a loan guarantee or insurance program, (5) a 
program operated by a partnership among private entities for the 
purchase, lease, or other acquisition of AT devices or AT services; or 
(6) another mechanism that meets the requirements of this program and 
is described in an application, peer reviewed and approved by the 
Assistant Secretary.
    (e)(1) The State must provide matching funds so that the Federal 
share of the cost of the AFP is not more than 50 percent. Because 
section 302 (a)(3)(A) of the ATAct requires each State to receive a 
minimum award of $500,000, the State match must be at least $500,000; 
and (2) The State must provide the non-Federal share of the cost of the 
AFP in cash, from State, local, or private sources;
    (f) The State must provide an assurance that the State will 
continue the AFP after Federal funding has terminated on a permanent 
basis or for as long as the mechanisms exist to support such a program;

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    (g) The State must provide an assurance that, and information 
describing the manner in which, the program will expand and emphasize 
consumer choice and control;
    (h) The State must provide an assurance that the State will 
supplement and not supplant other Federal, State, and local public 
funds expended to provide any currently operating AFP in the State;
    (i) The State must provide an assurance that the State will place 
all funds that support the AFP, including funds repaid during the life 
of the program, in a permanent separate account, apart from any other 
fund;
    (j) The State must provide an assurance that the State's community-
based organization will invest funds in low-risk securities in which a 
regulated insurance company may invest under the law of the State if 
the organization administering funds invests funds within this account;
    (k) The State must provide an assurance that the State's community-
based organization will administer the funds with the same judgement 
and care that a person of prudence, discretion, and intelligence would 
exercise in the management of the financial affairs of such person;
    (l) The State must provide an assurance that funds comprised of the 
principal and interest from the State account for this activity will be 
available to support the AFP;
    (m) The State must provide an assurance that any interest or 
investment income that accrues on or derives from such funds after such 
funds have been placed under the control of the organization 
administering the AFP, but before such funds are distributed for 
purposes of supporting the program, will be the property of the 
organization administering the program; and
    (n) The State must provide an assurance that the State will limit 
the indirect costs of the total amount available for the AFP to 10 
percent, including both the Federal and State funds.
    In addition to the statutory requirements, each project must:
    (a) Provide in accessible formats materials that can be used by 
potential loan applicants and lending institutions to obtain, share and 
disseminate information on loan availability, eligibility requirements 
and procedures and general loan related updates; and
    (b) Coordinate and share information, resources and with the State 
ATAct projects.
    (c) Conduct and submit to NIDRR and the AFTAP an annual evaluation 
of its activities using the data collection instrument to be developed 
the AFTAP described in Priority 2.

Priority 2: Alternative Financing Technical Assistance Program

    The Assistant Secretary establishes AFTAP in order to assist States 
in meeting the objectives of the AFP. Consistent with the statutory 
requirements, the AFTAP project must:
    (a) Provide assistance to States preparing applications for the 
AFP;
    (b) Assist States to develop and implement the AFP; and
    (c) Provide any other information and TA the Assistant Secretary 
determines to be appropriate to assist States to achieve the objectives 
of AFP.
    In addition to the statutory requirements, the AFPTA project must:
    (a) Develop and implement a self-assessment instrument to determine 
the effectiveness of the AFPTA;
    (b) Provide in accessible formats materials that contains useful 
and replicable information on loan projects and can be used by States 
under the AFP and States planning to apply under the AFP to improve the 
efficiency and effectiveness of their loan projects working closely 
with the National Internet Project located at the Georgia Institute on 
Technology;
    (c) Develop a uniform data collection instrument for use by the AFP 
that includes, at a minimum, data on features of loan programs and 
unique characteristics and outcomes in order to comply with annual 
reporting requirements; and
    (d) Share information and collaborate with the TA programs funded 
under Section 104 of the AT Act.

Electronic Access to This Document

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Education documents published in the Federal Register, in text or Adobe 
Portable Document Format (PDF) on the Internet at either of the 
following sites:

http://ocfo.ed.gov/fedreg.htm
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To use the PDF you must have the Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is 
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    Note: The official version of this document is the document 
published in the Federal Register. Free Internet access to the 
official edition of the Federal Register and the Code of Federal 
Regulations is available on GPO access at: http://
www.access.gpo.gov/nara/index.html.

(Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance Number 84.224C, Assistive 
Technology Act Alternative Loan Financing, Title III)

    Program Authority: 29 U.S.C. 3051-3058

    Dated: May 31, 2000.
Judith E. Heumann,
Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.
[FR Doc. 00-13945 Filed 6-2-00; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4000-01-U