FCC Launches Emergency Broadband Benefit Program on May 12

FCC logoThe Emergency Broadband Benefit is a Federal Communication Commission (FCC) program to help families and households struggling to afford internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic. This new benefit will connect eligible households to jobs, critical healthcare services, virtual classrooms, and more.

The FCC has announced that eligible households can apply for the program starting May 12, 2021 in three ways:

  1. Contact your preferred participating broadband provider directly to learn about their application process, or use the FCC’s online tool to find a participating company near you. Participating companies can help you apply through the National Verifier or through their company’s application process.
  2. Go to GetEmergencyBroadband.org to apply online and to find participating providers near you.
  3. Call 833-511-0311 for a mail-in application, and return it along with proof of eligibility to: Emergency Broadband Support Center, P.O. Box 7081, London, KY 40742.

Individuals who use videophones and are fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) may call the FCC’s ASL Consumer Support Line at (844) 432-2275 (videophone).

Enrollment for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program will end when the fund runs out of money, or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the COVID-19 health emergency, whichever is sooner. Therefore, Mainers should also be aware of the FCC’s Lifeline Program, a permanent federal program that offers a monthly benefit of up to $9.25 towards phone or internet services for eligible subscribers (up to $34.25 for those living on Tribal/Native lands). Please use this link for more information about the Lifeline Program…

 

Emergency Broadband Benefit Program Update

FCC logoThe Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is a new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program that provides a temporary discount on monthly broadband bills for qualifying low-income households. If your household is eligible, you can receive:

  • Up to a $50/month discount on your broadband service and associated equipment rentals
  • Up to a $75/month discount if your household is on qualifying Tribal lands
  • A one-time discount of up to $100 for a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer (with a co-payment of more than $10 but less than $50)
  • Only one monthly service discount and one device discount is allowed per household.

The FCC expects enrollment for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program to open within the next few weeks. It will end when the fund runs out of money, or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the COVID-19 health emergency, whichever is sooner.

A new website – getemergencybroadband.org – provides all of the information needed to apply including:

Mainers should also be aware of the FCC’s Lifeline Program, a permanent federal program that offers a monthly benefit of up to $9.25 towards phone or internet services for eligible subscribers (up to $34.25 for those living on Tribal/Native lands). Please use this link for more information about the Lifeline Program…

 

Emergency Broadband Benefit Program Available to Eligible Families in April

From the Maine Department of Education

Neon sign with the words Hi Speed InternetThe Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently adopted a “Report and Order” that established the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, a $3.2 billion federal initiative to help lower the cost of high-speed internet for eligible households during the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.

Benefits of the program include:

  • Up to $50/month discount for broadband services;
  • Up to $75/month discount for broadband services for households on Tribal lands; and
  • A one-time discount of up to $100 for a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet purchased through a participating provider.
  • The Emergency Broadband Benefit is limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount per eligible household.

A household is eligible if one member of the household:

  • Qualifies for the Lifeline program, including those who are on Medicaid or receive SNAP benefits;
  • Receives benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision, or did so in the 2019- 2020 school year;
  • Experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020, and the household had a total income in 2020 below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers;
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant in the current award year; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program.

The FCC expects the Emergency Broadband Benefit program to be open to eligible households before the end of April, 2021. Please check the FCC’s website regularly for the latest information. Once up and running, eligible households will be able to enroll through participating broadband providers or directly with the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC).

Many types of broadband providers can qualify to provide service in this program. The FCC is currently setting up the systems needed for providers to participate. Contact information for the providers participating in the program will be posted on USAC’s website.

For more information, the Report and Order along with the rules governing this program can be found at this link…

Rules Proposed to Improve Access to Vehicles for People with Disabilities

automobile with hand controlsThe U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) – National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released for public comment a proposed rule to improve access to motor vehicles, including rental cars, for people with disabilities. The rule proposes changes to NHTSA’s Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard to facilitate the use of adaptive equipment in rental cars and to simplify vehicle transport of wheelchairs and scooters.

Federal law generally prohibits making a vehicle’s safety features inoperable. One proposed change would permit rental car companies to temporarily disable a driver’s air bag to install hand controls. In an accident, the deployment of the knee bolster air bag can result in the hand controls hitting and injuring the driver. A second proposed change would allow installation of rear-mounted transporters for wheelchairs and scooters. These transporters may obstruct the view of a vehicle’s backup camera.

Public comments are due January 27, 2021. For further information, visit DOT’s website or contact Gunyoung Lee of NHTSA Office of Crash Avoidance Standards at (202) 366-6005, Daniel Koblenz of NHTSA Office of Chief Counsel at (202) 366-5329, or David Jasinski at (202) 366-5552.

 

Audio Description Project – Proposed Rulemaking

The following press release comes from the Audio Description Project of the American Council of the Blind (ACB):

On April 23, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that proposes expanding the number of broadcast designated market areas required to pass through audio description from the top 60 markets to the top 100, and to use the term “audio description” instead of the term “video description.”

The NPRM seeks to modernize the terminology in the Commission’s regulations to use the term “audio description” rather than “video description.” The term “audio description” is used by the rest of the federal government and is the term used in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Additionally, “audio description” is the agreed upon international terminology for audibly describing the visual elements of videos, on-stage performances, and subjects at museum and art galleries.

On May 21, 2020, the Media Bureau of the FCC released a public notice announcing the NPRM comment due dates; comments are due June 22, 2020, and reply comments are due July 6, 2020. The text of the NPRM is available on the FCC website.

Interested parties may file comments on their own by accessing the Electronic Comment Filing System. All filings must reference MB Docket No. 11-43. People with disabilities who need assistance to file comments online may request assistance by email to FCC504@fcc.gov.

Read more about the plan to expand the number of broadcast designated market areas…

Read more about the Audio Description Project…

 

MaineCare now allows Telehealth to deliver pharmacy services

In a special ruling made on March 16, 2020 by the Division of Policy of MaineCare, Chapter 101 of MaineCare Benefits Manual Chapter I, Section 4, Telehealth services for Pharmacy Services are now covered by MaineCARE.

In the “concise summary” the change in rules states:

This emergency rulemaking will remove the MaineCare Benefits Manual (MBM), Chapter I, Section 4, Telehealth Services blanket prohibition against providers utilizing telehealth to deliver services under the MBM, Chapter II, Section 80, Pharmacy Services. Pursuant to 5 M.R.S. Section 8054, the Department has determined that immediate adoption of this rule is necessary to avoid a potentially severe and immediate threat to public health, safety or general welfare. The Department’s findings of emergency are set forth in detail in the Emergency Basis Statement. Maine is facing a substantial public health threat posed by the global spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic. As a preemptive action by the Department, Pharmacy Services will be available via telehealth when medically necessary and appropriate.

This emergency rule change will take effect upon adoption and will be in effect for 90 days (5 M.R.S. § 8054). The Department is concurrently engaging in the routine technical rulemaking process for Section 4 to prevent a lapse in the rule and added services.

Please use this link to see the new rules and rulemaking documents

 

State provides guidance on new Hearing Aid mandate

Regarding the recently passed and enacted legislation related to 24-A M.R.S. § 2762, a law which requires health insurance carriers in Maine to provide hearing aid coverage in all individual and group health plans, the Maine Bureau of Insurance in the Department of Professional and Financial Regulations has published the following Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) documentation:

New Hearing Aid Mandate, Effective January 1, 2020

Q: I have insurance and I need hearing aids. Does this new law mean my insurance will cover the cost now?

A: It depends on several factors:

Type of Insurance

The following types are required to provide the benefit:

      • Fully funded major medical policies, including ACA coverage;
      • Short-term limited duration policies

These types are exempt from all State health insurance benefit mandates:

      • Medicare products, including Medicare Supplement and Medicare Advantage plans (federally exempted by Social Security/Medicare);
      • Self-insured plans, except state or municipal governmental and multiple-employer welfare association (MEWA) plans;
      • Plans other than comprehensive major medical or short-term limited duration: accidental injury; specified disease; hospital indemnity; dental; vision; disability income; long-term care; other limited benefit health insurance.

Benefit Details, Deductibles, Cost, Networks, and Renewal Dates

Coverage amount:

      • Up to $3,000 per hearing aid for each hearing-impaired ear; and
      • Available every 36 months.

Deductibles: You should be aware that you could still be responsible for all or part of the cost if you have not yet met your annual deductible at the time you purchase a hearing aid.

Cost:  If you purchase a hearing aid that costs more than $3,000, you should assume you will need to pay the amount over the $3,000 out of your own pocket, even if you have met your deductible – unless your policy specifically provides a greater benefit.

Network:  You could also be responsible for all or part of the cost if you use a provider who is not part of your plan’s network.

Renewal dates:  If you have a group plan that is required to provide this benefit, but it renews later in the year, the benefit will not be included in your coverage until that time.

Q: I know I have hearing issues. Do I need to go to my primary care office before going to see a hearing specialist and getting a prescription for hearing aids?

A:  Whether you are able to self-refer to a specialist and whether pre-authorization is required to purchase a hearing aid would depend on your policy contract.  Check with your insurer and/or your employer’s benefits department.

Q: Will my insurance cost more because of this mandate?

A:  The cost of providing the new benefit is built into the premium and should be very minimal (the Bureau’s 2014 report estimated that the cost per policyholder could be $.47 per month).

If you have questions beyond this FAQ, please contact the Maine Bureau of Insurance

Access to air travel for passengers who use wheelchairs

From the U.S. Access Board

Study Initiated on Equipping Passenger Aircraft with Wheelchair Restraint Systems

US Access Board logoThe U.S. Access Board is undertaking a study that has the potential to advance access to air travel for passengers who use wheelchairs. As directed by Congress, this project will assess the feasibility of equipping passenger planes with restraint systems so that passengers can remain in their wheelchairs on flights. Having to transfer out of wheelchairs makes air travel very difficult, if not impossible, for many people with disabilities.

The Board is conducting this study through the National Academy of Sciences’ Transportation Research Board (TRB). TRB has organized a committee of experts to evaluate the feasibility of in-cabin wheelchair restraint systems. Members include experts in aircraft interiors and safety engineering, accessibility, wheelchair design and crashworthiness, airline operations, and other disciplines. Committee members will evaluate the design, engineering, and safety requirements for equipping aircraft with locking or tiedown mechanisms for non-motorized and motorized wheelchairs used as seats. If such restraint systems are found to be feasible, the committee will then assess the wheelchair restraint systems that can be used to accommodate passengers using wheelchairs through all phases of flight, from boarding to deplaning.

The committee will hold its first meeting February 5 – 6, 2020 at the Access Board’s conference center. Most sessions will be open to the public and available by web conference. Those attending in person do not need to register in advance, but registration is required (free) to attend online.

Visit TRB’s website for further information on this project, the meeting agenda, and the committee.

Questions about the study can be directed to Mario Damiani of the Access Board at damiani@access-board.gov, (202) 272-0050 (v), or (202) 272-0066 (TTY). Inquiries about attending the committee meeting or registering for the web conference should be addressed to Anusha Jayasinghe of TRB at AJayasinghe@nas.edu or (202) 334-2401

 

International symbol for access

Access Board to Assess Feasibility of Wheelchair Restraint Systems on Aircraft

From the US Access Board:

The inability to use one’s wheelchair on airplanes makes air travel very difficult, if not impossible, for many people with disabilities. It requires multiple transfers between boarding chairs and aircraft seats, posing injury risks. Airline seats are a poor alternative to personal wheelchairs which are typically customized for the user’s safety, comfort, and specific medical needs. Further, passengers’ wheelchairs are stowed in the cargo hold and often damaged, mishandled, or lost as a result.

To address these challenges, the Access Board is undertaking a study to assess the feasibility of equipping aircraft with restraint systems so that passengers can remain in their wheelchairs on flights. Congress directed the Board to study this question in its most recent reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration. The Board has enlisted the Transportation Research Board (TRB), which is part of the congressionally chartered National Academy of Sciences, to conduct this assessment and to issue a report. The Board and TRB will consult the Department of Transportation, aircraft manufacturers, air carriers, and disability advocates in the course of the study, as directed by the act.

“The Board is eager to examine this issue which has the potential to make flying safer and more comfortable for thousands of people who use wheelchairs,” stated Board Executive Director David Capozzi. “We look forward to building upon and advancing the work of other organizations who have provided critical leadership, advocacy, and research on this subject, notably All Wheels Up, Flying Disabled, and Paralyzed Veterans of America.”

TRB will organize an expert panel to assess and evaluate the feasibility of equipping passenger aircraft with in-cabin wheelchair restraint systems. This panel will include experts in aircraft manufacturing, aeronautics, aviation safety, accessibility, disability policy, airline operations, and other disciplines. It will examine the design, engineering, and safety requirements for equipping aircraft with locking or tiedown mechanisms for non-motorized and motorized wheelchairs used as seats. If such restraint systems are found to be feasible, the panel will then assess how they can be used to accommodate passengers using wheelchairs through all phases of flight, from boarding to deplaning. A peer-reviewed report on the panel’s findings will be published at the conclusion of the project and submitted to Congress. The report is expected by October 2021.

For further information on this study, contact Mario Damiani of the Access Board at (202) 272-0050 (voice), (202) 272-0066 (TTY), or damiani@access-board.gov.

Public Weighs in on Proposed Voluntary Guidelines for Aircraft Wheelchairs

In August, the Access Board released advisory guidelines for wheelchairs used on airplanes and made them available for public comment. These voluntary guidelines specify dimensions, features, and capabilities for wheelchairs used during flights to access aircraft lavatories. The guidelines address maneuverability, stowage, stability, back support, restraints, assist handles, and other details. The published notice also posed a number of technical questions to the public.

By the close of the 60-day comment period, the Board received over 40 comments from various interests and stakeholders, including people with disabilities, advocacy groups, aircraft manufacturers, trade associations, manufacturers of onboard wheelchairs, researchers, and others. In addition, the Board held a public hearing on the guidelines in September that provided an additional forum for submitting comment. The docket, which includes all submitted comments and hearing testimony, is available on regulations.gov.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) plans to supplement its regulations under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) to require onboard wheelchairs with enhanced functionality on certain single-aisle aircraft as part of a negotiated rulemaking (PDF) to improve access for air travelers with disabilities. The Board is developing these non-binding guidelines as technical assistance to air carriers and manufacturers of onboard wheelchairs by providing an example of how to meet DOT’s planned performance standards.

For further information on the Board’s development of these guidelines, contact Wendy Marshall at (202) 272-0043 (voice) or marshall@access-board.gov, or Mario Damiani (202) 272-0050 (voice) or damiani@access-board.gov.

Assistive Technology Re-authorization Act Introduced in Senate

Casey, Collins Introduce Bill to Expand Access to Assistive Technology for Seniors and People with Disabilities

Legislation Would Help Seniors and People With Disabilities Maintain Independence

US Capitol DomeWashington, D.C. – Today, June 13, 2019, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), the Ranking Member and Chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, introduced the 21st Century Assistive Technology Act that would increase access to assistive technology—devices or services that help seniors and people with disabilities to maintain their independence and live where they choose.  The bill, which comes following a May 22nd hearing in the Aging Committee on the topic, would also help reduce the low employment and high poverty rates of older adults and people with disabilities by helping them live independently and maintain employment.

“Assistive technology helps millions of people live independently, remain engaged in their community and improves the quality of life for seniors and people with disabilities,” said Senator Casey.  “It is important that we update this bill to support the advances in assistive technology over the last 15 years, so that those who need it can be full participants in every aspect of their lives.”

“As our population ages, the need for care and support is increasing,” said Senator Collins.  “Advances in technology are working to bridge the ‘care gap,’ improving function in activities of daily living, helping to manage multiple chronic conditions, reducing risk of hazards, and making homes safer for seniors.  The 21st Century Assistive Technology Act would help to ensure that seniors continue to have access to these life-changing technologies to help them maintain their independence.”

The 21st Century Assistive Technology Act (S.1835) Act would update the Assistive Technology Act by clarifying that the program serves all people with disabilities, including veterans and older adults who developed disabilities later in life. The Assistive Technology Act would also increase the funding authorized for programs that serve rural areas. Assistive technology refers to any piece of equipment, product or service that helps someone with a disability or functional limitation accomplish their daily needs such as wheelchair ramps, hearing aids, screen readers and even smart phones.

This bill is supported by the Assistive Technology Act Programs, the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the American Association of People with Disabilities, The Arc of the United States, the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools and CAST.

Please contact Senator Collins office to receive an accessible version of the proposed 21st Century Assistive Technology Act.