Getting started on our SPIL

Question: I have a question. For the SPIL, since this is my first one coming up, will I form a committee to write the SPIL then after its done being wrote send to the DSE, CIL, and SILC chair for confirmation and signatures after public comment?

There is a lot of flexibility to how the SPIL is written, although there is clearly a requirement to include community input both before it is written and after it is written but before it is submitted. How you do that and who does the work varies greatly from one state to the next. This is something you should decide on as a council and write into your policies and procedures.

Some SILCs form a committee for each of the prior SPIL’s goals, and that committee collects information on what has been accomplished and what in that area still needs to be accomplished. This process provides a draft goal(s) or target(s) for the coming year that can then be reviewed by the public at one or more public hearings, and after their input, forged into a plan.

Some SILCs start from scratch every time, soliciting input first, and then forging that input into the draft SPIL.

Often, in both these scenarios, there are hearings at each center, because the centers have consumers, board, staff and partners that may turn out to provide that input. Having a public process doesn’t always assure that the public shows up, so meetings at the centers can help to assure you receive input from the disability community.

Some public input may come from surveys rather than meetings. Centers are required to measure satisfaction of the people they serve. Some states agree together to make sure that the satisfaction surveys are consistent — have at least a few questions in common — and that the results are consolidated into a statewide document that can provide input into the plan.

The centers have a key role in the development and approval of the SPIL, and are the entities most likely to do much of the work. Because the SILC cannot provide direct services, except information and referral, it is important that the CILs agree (at least 51% of them) with the plan for the work to be done for the next three years by the IL network in your state.

Often the heavy lifting — setting up the accessible public meetings, gathering the input, consolidating the input into a document for the SILC to review, and polishing the SILC thoughts into a draft — falls to SILC staff, in states that like yours have staff. In states that don’t have staff, the chair takes a key role and then the DSE often also provides support.

As I said, each state forms its own process within the requirements in the law and regulations. Here are those regulations:

45 CFR §1329.17   General requirements for a State plan.

(a) The State may use funds received under Part B to support the Independent Living Services program and to meet its obligations under the Act, including the section 704(e) requirements that apply to the provision of independent living services. The State plan must stipulate that the State will provide IL services, directly and/or through grants and contracts, with Federal, State or other funds, and must describe how and to whom those funds will be disbursed for this purpose.

(b) In order to receive financial assistance under this part, a State shall submit to the Administrator a State plan for independent living.

(1) The State plan must contain, in the form prescribed by the Administrator, the information set forth in section 704 of the Act, including designation of an Agency to serve as the designated State entity, and such other information requested by the Administrator.

(2) The State plan must contain the assurances set forth in section 704(m) of the Act.

(3) The State plan must be signed in accordance with the provisions of this section.

(4) The State plan must be submitted 90 days before the completion date of the proceeding plan, and otherwise in the time frame and manner prescribed by the Administrator.

(5) The State plan must be approved by the Administrator.

(c) The State plan must cover a period of not more than three years and must be amended whenever necessary to reflect any material change in State law, organization, policy, or agency operations that affects the administration of the State plan.

(d) The State plan must be jointly—

(1) Developed by the chairperson of the SILC, and the directors of the CILs, after receiving public input from individuals with disabilities and other stakeholders throughout the State; and

(2) Signed by the—

(i) Chairperson of the SILC, acting on behalf of and at the direction of the SILC;

(ii) The director of the DSE, signifying agreement to execute the responsibilities of the DSE identified in section 704(c) of the Act; and

(iii) Not less than 51 percent of the directors of the CILs in the State. For purposes of this provision, if a legal entity that constitutes the “CIL” has multiple Part C grants considered as separate Centers for all other purposes, for SPIL signature purposes, it is only considered as one Center. CILs with service areas in more than one State that meet the other applicable requirements are eligible to participate in SPIL development and sign the SPIL in each of the relevant States.

(e) The State plan must provide for the review and revision of the plan, not less than once every three years, to ensure the existence of appropriate planning, financial support and coordination, and other assistance to meet the requirements of section 704(a) of the Act.

(f) The public, including people with disabilities and other stakeholders throughout the State, must have an opportunity to comment on the State plan prior to its submission to the Administrator and on any revisions to the approved State plan. Meeting this standard for public input from individuals with disabilities requires providing reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures; effective communication and appropriate auxiliary aids and services for individuals with disabilities, which may include the provision of qualified interpreters and information in alternate formats, free of charge.

(1) The requirement for public input in this section may be met by holding public meetings before a preliminary draft State plan is prepared and by providing a preliminary draft State plan for comment prior to submission.

(2) To meet the public input standard of this section, a public meeting requires:

(i) Accessible, appropriate and sufficient notice provided at least 30 days prior to the public meeting through various media available to the general public, such as Web sites, newspapers and public service announcements, and through specific contacts with appropriate constituency groups.

(ii) All notices, including notices published on a Web site, and other written materials provided at or prior to public meetings must be available upon request in accessible formats.

(g) The State plan must identify those provisions that are State-imposed requirements. For purposes of this section, a State-imposed requirement includes any State law, regulation, rule, or policy relating to the DSE’s administration or operation of IL programs under Title VII of the Act, including any rule or policy implementing any Federal law, regulation, or guideline that is beyond what would be required to comply with the regulations in this part.

(h) The State plan must address how the specific requirements in the Act and in paragraph (f) of this section will be met.

We just settled a potential discrimination lawsuit from former staff…

We just settled a potential discrimination lawsuit from former staff. Is the payment of the settlement an allowable expense under federal rules?

Ah, my favorite answer. It depends.

Was there a whistleblower component or might the individual claim there was? You clearly cannot use federal dollars to settle that sort of case because the specific accusation of wrongdoing is related to the waste, fraud or abuse of federal funds themselves.

Such costs are not allowed if the settlement:

(i) Relates to a violation of, or failure to comply with, a Federal, state, local or foreign statute, regulation or the terms and conditions of the Federal award, by the non-Federal entity (including its agents and employees); and

(ii) Results in any of the following dispositions:

(A) In a criminal proceeding, a conviction.

(B) In a civil or administrative proceeding involving an allegation of fraud or similar misconduct, a determination of non-Federal entity liability.

(C) In the case of any civil or administrative proceeding, the disallowance of costs or the imposition of a monetary penalty, or an order issued by the HHS awarding agency head or delegate to the non-Federal entity to take corrective action under 10 U.S.C. 2409 or 41 U.S.C. 4712.

(D) A final decision by an appropriate Federal official to debar or suspend the non-Federal entity, to rescind or void a Federal award, or to terminate a Federal award by reason of a violation or failure to comply with a statute, regulation, or the terms and conditions of the Federal award.

(E) A disposition by consent or compromise, if the action could have resulted in any of the dispositions described in paragraphs (b)(1)(ii)(A) through (D) of this section.

The circumstances seem to me to be related to (E), A disposition by consent or compromise. The question is whether the case itself is related to an allegation of fraud or failure to follow laws or regulations, or similar misconduct. It appears to me that the staff person was alleging misconduct in the form of discrimination against her as a protected class. If that is the case, the settlement cannot be paid with federal funds. If that is not the case, it may be allowed. Say, for example, the settlement was related to unclear policies on what accrued leave needs to be paid out. If there is no accusation of wrong doing, that would be allowable with federal funds.

This isn’t simple. Read the whole section if you are struggling with this. Your legal costs, for example, may or may not be allowed as well. Your attorney can help you parse through this complex section and identify where your case fits in this complex legal section.

45 CFR  75.435

Can we use federal money to start fee for service projects?

Request: I hoped you might be able to provide some guidance regarding start up funds for fee-for-service programs. I have reviewed the training available on ILRU but had some additional questions. Would it ever be allowable to use Part C funds to contribute to start up of a fee for service line? We are considering benefits planning as a fee for service in the fall. 

You are allowed to develop funding options through time for staff paid for through your Part C grant. While fund raising is not typically allowed with federal funds, fund development is not only allowed, but is required for centers. While I will make a statement in a second about how some centers struggle with the philosophy of this particular project, it can fit under advocacy as a core services, and is fund development, so is allowed with Part C funds.

The staff time and the related benefits are typically the greatest cost. The indirect costs related to building occupancy would also be part of the cost. I would limit any new investments for space or equipment until you get a sense of how well the services are being received.

If you use any Part C money, though — indirect or direct — the profit that you make has to go back into the same things your Part C grant is used for, and the same “strings” of what is and is not allowable are applied–at least for the funding cycle of your Part C grant (which is at this time considered to be long term because the renewals are not competitive.)

I suggest, if you can, to use discretionary funds for this development because then you have a clear idea of its actual costs, and you know if it is feasible to continue. And, if all the direct and indirect costs are paid through discretionary funds or through proceeds from a project developed independently from Part C, then the proceeds that remain are discretionary and can be spent on otherwise non-allowable costs like lobbying.

I know of other centers who are taking this approach, and some make a small profit and others don’t. I suspect that depends on population base at least in part. How well trained the staff are is another. Some engage attorneys, for example, at a greater cost than less legally trained staff. To be successful you should approach this like any other business, and develop a business plan so that you know if you have a customer base that will support your new idea, what fee the market will allow, and where to tap your customers.

There is a discussion going on in IL around whether or not benefits counseling is appropriate for IL. For one thing, there are usually generic services that provide this support, We assist with self-advocacy, certainly, and assist individuals with navigating a difficult system. However, there is a real question of whether or not receiving these benefits assists the individual in achieving independence. There are some centers that have consciously chosen not to provide this service for that reason.

We have training on this topic. You might enjoy a 15 hour video from on-site training. If you find it useful you can review the power points and just view the sections you find the most useful in video/audio/captioned format.

Response: I understand the concern about benefits counseling. We’ve had some of the same discussions at our center. The type of benefits counseling that we plan to do it “work incentive” benefits counseling. We have learned that there are limited options in our area for this service. Our DSE is supportive of us adding this service as well. We feel this works nicely with IL philosophy as we’ll also be helping folks with employment goals and getting back to work. One of our staff competed a fairly intensive training to receive her certification. I’m hopeful it will also serve to give our small center more viability too.

Eight questions to answer for a more effective board

What type of board is the most effective? There isn’t a magic number for the size of board that works well for you center. Sometimes your bylaws specify a range, saying something like, “no fewer than four and no more than seventeen”.  Within that range (or a wider range if you want to change your bylaws) what works best? Here are some things to consider. Embed from Getty Images

1) Is your organization going through major change? Sometimes it helps to have a smaller but fully engaged board if you are making a series of tough decisions. Sometimes your executive committee can serve this function if your bylaws allow it and if you have a larger board. But don’t be afraid to work with a small board. National trends tell us that non-profits are trending toward smaller boards of directors.

2) Is your board shrinking? I’ve found that this sometimes happens when there is a change in the Executive Director for the Center. If you are that new, incoming Executive Director, don’t feel you have to push the board into growing immediately. Give it a little time. Get to know the current board. Learn how their recruiting has gone in the past. Get to know the community, if it is new to you. Do some planning with that smaller board. Decide together what kind of board will work best for your Center’s future.  What attributes are you looking for in new board members? How do you want the board to work in the future.

3) Do you have a committee structure?  Sometimes your bylaws require certain standing committees.  Typically a standing committee is in place only if it meets a long term, ongoing need the work can be more effectively completed in a smaller group that in the full board meeting.  I suggest that you don’t need to make these a bylaws issue, except to define the level of authority that the Executive Committee has. Keeping all other committees as ad hoc gives you more flexibility in what committees you have and how you utilize them. An ad hoc committee meets a short term need and when that need is met, disbands until needed again. Functionally, many standing committees operate like ad hoc committees, don’t they?

4) When is a board too small?  Does your organization have a network of strong community partners? Some of the representatives of your wish list of partners might be good board members. Do you have representatives of underserved communities on your board? Do you have access to experts in areas that matter to the board’s effectiveness, like legal, personnel, accounting or other areas where the board may be making decisions. Not all areas need to be represented on the board, but you need access to these partners to grow.

5) Can committees can contain members that are not on the board?  While your committees should be chaired by a board member, who can bring committee recommendations to the board as motions, there may be other stakeholders who would make excellent committee members. This may also give you a way to consider potential new board members. Look to consumers and community experts as potential committee members. You may need to help members be aware of the ground rules — this isn’t the place for  complaints but rather is a structure for taking recommendations to the board to improve the operations of your center around a specific topic.

6) When is a board too big?  When you consider your last board meeting, were there members who were not full participants? Sometimes one person dominates, even on a small board, but when there is a large board, not every member feels engaged in or important to the meeting.

7) When does the membership need to change?  Do you find that the board repeats conversations from one meeting to the next? Is progress limited? Are you often struggling to make decisions? Then it is time for the board to consider a board rotation policy. While centers are not required to limit the number of terms a member can serve, it is considered best practice to rotate off the board at the end of two or three terms. This brings in new blood, gives the board member a break, and lets you fill in some of the gaps you’ve identified.

8) Does the board evaluate its own performance?  It is important for the board to assess its own performance. Stopping time and taking stock occasionally — we suggest annually — will help the board to set goals for the future that they, themselves perform. Here are some resources for beginning that process.

Are CILs required to meet Drug Free Workplace Requirements?

The most important piece of legislation regulating federal contractors and grantees related to drugs in the workplace is the Drug-free Drug-free Workplace Act of 1988Workplace Act of 1988. Under the act, a drug-free workplace policy is required for:

  • Any organization that receives a federal contract of $100,000 or more
  • Any organizations receiving a federal grant of any size

At a minimum, such organizations must:

  • Prepare and distribute a formal drug-free workplace policy statement. This statement should clearly prohibit the manufacture, use, and distribution of controlled substances in the workplace and spell out the specific consequences of violating this policy.
  • Establish a drug-free awareness program. This program should inform employees of the dangers of workplace substance use; review the requirements of the organization’s drug-free workplace policy; and offer information about any counseling, rehabilitation, or employee assistance programs (EAPs) that may be available.
  • Ensure that all employees working on the federal contract understand their personal reporting obligations. Under the terms of the Drug-Free Workplace Act, an employee must notify the employer within five calendar days if he or she is convicted of a criminal drug violation.
  • Notify the federal contracting agency of any covered violation. Under the terms of the Drug-free Workplace Act, the employer has 10 days to report that a covered employee has been convicted of criminal drug violation.
  • Take direct action against an employee convicted of a workplace drug violation. This action may involve imposing a penalty or requiring the offender to participate in an appropriate rehabilitation or counseling program.
  • Maintain an ongoing good faith effort to meet all the requirements of the Drug-free Workplace Act throughout the life of the contract. Covered organizations must demonstrate their intentions and actions toward maintaining a drug-free workplace. Their failure to comply with terms of the Drug-Free Workplace Act may result in a variety of penalties, including suspension or termination of their grants/contracts and being prohibited from applying for future government funding.*

SILCs and Part B only Centers are required to follow guidelines on this topic provided by the DSE.

As you may have heard in the news, even states that have legalized marijuana are subject to restrictions on that drug. The federal requirements still classify cannabis as an illegal substance.


How long do we have to keep records?

The general requirement is three years, or until the known need for the record (like pending legal or insurance issues) has expired. We recommend you keep them for a minimum of five years, because you may need records for parts of a year before or after the three years.

A messy and very large stack of folders and papers.

The Uniform Administrative Requirements say this:

45 CFR 75.361   Retention requirements for records.

Financial records, supporting documents, statistical records, and all other non-Federal entity records pertinent to a Federal award must be retained for a period of three years from the date of submission of the final expenditure report or, for Federal awards that are renewed quarterly or annually, from the date of the submission of the quarterly or annual financial report, respectively, as reported to the HHS awarding agency or pass-through entity in the case of a subrecipient. HHS awarding agencies and pass-through entities must not impose any other record retention requirements upon non-Federal entities. The only exceptions are the following:

(a) If any litigation, claim, or audit is started before the expiration of the 3-year period, the records must be retained until all litigation, claims, or audit findings involving the records have been resolved and final action taken.

(b) When the non-Federal entity is notified in writing by the HHS awarding agency, cognizant agency for audit, oversight agency for audit, cognizant agency for indirect costs, or pass-through entity to extend the retention period.

(c) Records for real property and equipment acquired with Federal funds must be retained for 3 years after final disposition.

(d) When records are transferred to or maintained by the HHS awarding agency or pass-through entity, the 3-year retention requirement is not applicable to the non-Federal entity.

(e) Records for program income transactions after the period of performance. In some cases, recipients must report program income after the period of performance. Where there is such a requirement, the retention period for the records pertaining to the earning of the program income starts from the end of the non-Federal entity’s fiscal year in which the program income is earned.

(f) Indirect cost rate proposals and cost allocations plans. This paragraph applies to the following types of documents and their supporting records: Indirect cost rate computations or proposals, cost allocation plans, and any similar accounting computations of the rate at which a particular group of costs is chargeable (such as computer usage chargeback rates or composite fringe benefit rates).

(1) If submitted for negotiation. If the proposal, plan, or other computation is required to be submitted to the Federal Government (or to the pass-through entity) to form the basis for negotiation of the rate, then the 3-year retention period for its supporting records starts from the date of such submission.

(2) If not submitted for negotiation. If the proposal, plan, or other computation is not required to be submitted to the Federal Government (or to the pass-through entity) for negotiation purposes, then the 3-year retention period for the proposal, plan, or computation and its supporting records starts from the end of the fiscal year (or other accounting period) covered by the proposal, plan, or other computation.

Words do matter!

A branding iron stamped the words “Own It” on a surface.

It isn’t that I never slip. I do. I am of an older generation and sometimes the words of my past and my history come out of my mouth when I don’t intend for them to.

Maybe that is true for you, too. If you are new to IL, or even if you have been a part of IL for a long time, there are terms we need to examine and in some cases exterminate from our vocabulary.

  • One thing that may be a surprise is that we don’t always use people first language. People first language addresses “people with disabilities” rather than “disabled person”, and some of the time that is the right approach. But some of the time we should own our disability and put it first — “the disabled community”, for example.
  •  We don’t repeat the labels of other disability-related organizations. You have heard these labels — “special needs”, “differently abled”, “high functioning”, “low functioning”, “mental age”. Let me speak to that mental age label as an example. First of all, there isn’t anything valuable that comes from that label, that way of categorizing people. Secondly, a person who is 23 who has been labeled as having a “mental age of six”, isn’t 6. She has the life experience of a 23 year old, so nothing useful comes out of the limitations of mental age. CILs do not typically use “differently abled” because, again, we are proud of our disability and our disability community.
  • We avoid terms that show prejudice against a specific disability. We don’t use “mental retardation” or “mental illness”, first of all. People with intellectual disabilities or mental health disabilities cringe when they hear those terms.  These and other terms emphasize a negative stereotype of the people they are describing.
  • Slang that has disability roots is not acceptable. Retarded, crazy, nuts, mental, and more are used in the vernacular to describe all kinds of things unrelated to disability — but these are terms that show a prejudice against some of us with disabilities who have been hurt by such slurs.
  • As people with disabilities we can reclaim some previously negative labels. For example, there is a project supported by Centers for Independent Living called “Crip the Vote”, which encourages people with disabilities to register and to vote. We have reclaimed that negative “crip” for our own.
  • Why do we use the term “consumer” instead of customer or client or other terms? When we created the laws and regulations around Independent Living, we needed a way to describe that our organizations are controlled by us, not by the non-disabled world. “Consumer” was a powerful word related to the rights of the person purchasing goods or services. “Consumer control” is the hallmark of centers, which assures that more than 50% of the board, management and staff of a center are disabled. When it comes to your own language inside your center, you don’t have to make “consumer” a label for the people you serve. You can just call them people. But the power of “consumer control” makes “consumer” a term we want to claim as our own.

How do we count Information and Referral services?


The word REPORT is written in red over a white puzzle with missing pieces.

Information and Referral is the one core service that you can provide without setting up a Consumer Service Record for the individual. That doesn’t mean that you won’t need to keep information and follow up with the person. The strongest centers keep some kind of log of the caller, the area of concern, and the information needed to follow up and see if the individual was able to act on the information or referral.

The best practice we see treats this first contact as the door to offering additional services or connecting the person with the disability community or both.

These individual contacts where the center staff responds to someone who is asking a question can come through social media or your website and not just by telephone or drop-ins.  But it is only counted as an I & R service if you provide information to an individual in response to a request.

Centers have not been consistent in how I & Rs are counted in the annual reports to ACL/ILA. Here are some pointers for tracking I & Rs as opposed to outreach efforts.

  • A phone call requesting specific information, which is responded to, is an I & R.
  • A text message requesting specific information, which is responded to, is an I & R.
  • A phone message that is not returned does not count as an I & R.
  • A “contact us” note on your website, if you respond to it, is an I & R.
  • Hits to your website are outreach, but are not I & R.
  • If someone contacts you with a message from Facebook and you respond by providing information or referral, it is an I & R.
  • Facebook “likes” “follow” and “share” are outreach, but are not I & R.

For you to count an activity as I & R, you must actually provide a specific individual with information or a referral.

Do life goals and dreams need to be realistic?

A chalkboard with a circle around MY GOALS and arrows pointing to colorful sticky notes labled Artistic, Attitude, Career, Education, Family, Public Service, Pleasure, Physical, FInancial

A few weeks ago I got to attend a great on-location training by IL-Net called “Get to the Core of It: Integrating CIL Core Services for a Holistic Consumer Experience”.  (The captioned video will be posted soon.) All of the presenters are very experienced and provided very practical tips for implementing some best practices in direct services.

I was especially struck by some things said by Charlie Walters from ABLE South Carolina. He discussed setting a tone with the consumer as you begin the conversation about their goals. Here are some of his points:

  • Assist the consumer in identifying their strengths, resources, and potential barriers that may impact the person’s ability to function independently in the community.
  • Establish trust, and a sense of “us” addressing barriers since we both have a disability.
  • Empower and encourage the consumer from the outset by informing him or her about the importance of this process being consumer-driven and directed.
  • Utilize backwards planning, planning with a long-term vision and setting goals that will lead to that vision. When you start at the individual’s vision for the life they want, radical as that concept is, you are learning about their dreams.
  • Goals are worked out with the individual based on this vision and the effort they are willing to exert to get there.
  • Barriers to those goals can be part of the planning process — you need to sort out any functional limitations of the individual’s disability and the impact the disability has on his or her ability to function independently, and how to accommodate them.

Another presenter, Amina Donna Kruck, Talked about starting with the heart’s desire. It is not the center’s job to determine if these goals are “realistic”. It is our role to assist the person in breaking down the components of what they want most, their goal and its barriers so that the individual can see the path to their dreams. They may not know about accommodations that will assist with those functional limitations. It might be useful if to introduce a peer who has achieved a similar goal.

So the next time someone focuses on whether a dream is realistic, think about these processes for supporting the individual in achieving their dreams.  It is not our job to judge how realistic a goal is.  Instead our role is to assist the person in identifying steps they want to complete toward that dream.


What costs are “modified” in the 10% de minimus?

When you elect to apply the 10% de minimus rate rather than develop an indirect cost rate proposal, you are not required to submit a proposal for approval. There are, though, some assumptions about this that you need to know. 

The regulations around this state that, for the 10%, the “cost pool and base for distribution” for the indirect cost is  divided by modified total direct costs.

So what are these modified direct costs? From Uniform Guidance: 

Modified total direct costs, consisting all direct salaries and wages, applicable fringe benefits, materials and supplies, services, travel and up to the first $25,000 of each subaward (regardless of the period of performance of the subawards under the award). Modified total direct costs what exclude equipment, capital expenditures, charges for patient care, rental costs, tuition remission, scholarships and fellowships, participant support costs and the portion of each subaward in excess of $25,000. Other items may only be excluded when necessary to avoid a serious inequity in the distributions of indirect costs, and with the approval of the cognizant agency for indirect costs.

Some centers chose the 10% because they didn’t feel comfortable with the more complex proposals, policies and application of an indirect cost rate. Hopefully if you chose the 10%, you understand that this has a specific method for applying that 10% in keeping with these requirements