How are your Consumer Files?

I know one of the things some of you are doing with extra staff time is cleaning up your consumer records. You may call these Consumer Service Records or Consumer information Files or choose some other designation, but the bottom line is that you have a record of the services you provide to an eligible individual. Here are a few items for you to keep in mind.

  1. All records of individuals served are confidential. Whether you keep private identifying information (social security numbers?) or medical information (neither required by IL but sometimes needed for other services), your records and information about those you serve is confidential. You must keep them locked and password protected. Extra tip: Sometimes consumer information isn’t in the paper or computer file. Sometimes it is in an activity list, a birthday calendar or a mailing or email list. Keep these confidential, too.
  2. Your records must document what your annual reports (PPRs) indicate. How do you demonstrate who you serve, their disability (eligibility) and their desire to have an Independent Living Plan (or waive it)? Right now, all across the country, Centers are pulling reports from their consumer data base to use in completing their Program Performance Report. Look at them closely. Do they make sense? Do the staff seem knowledgeable in how to document? Run a cross-check by staff member to pick up any reporting inconsistencies. Make sure that the information in your PPR is an accurate reflection of the services provided. Extra tip: If you find anything that you have to go back and calculate by hand for the PPR you are working on now, train staff in corrections now so the reports for the current year are accurate.
  3. Review the COMP documents for more details. If your center is reviewed by your federal funder, it will be reviewed using the COMP materials provided by the Office of Independent Living Programs. You can find those materials here. Extra tip: One of the documents in the COMP process is a Consumer Information File Checklist that will help you double check all your records.
  4. Follow your own policies. You should have policies and procedures that specify when a file is closed and why, and a policy on how long you retain consumer records. You must demonstrate that you follow your own policies including these. If you destroy inactive records after seven years, for example, you shouldn’t hang on to inactive records that are 30 years old. Extra tip: Set a specific time for data entry. Some centers set a half day a week when they don’t see consumers so that staff are always caught up on data entry. You also want to set time for file review. This is done annually in small organizations, but may be done monthly or quarterly if needed. It is good practice to have staff review each other’s files from time to time, if your confidentiality policy allows that, so that staff can learn from each other’s processes.

A note about HIPPAA: Centers for Independent Living are not medical entities and are not typically bound by HIPPAA. However, you may have a specific funding source that requires this level of confidentiality. Follow the requirements related to that funding. You can institute that level of confidentiality for all of your consumer records if you wish.

2020 Uniform Guidance Updates

Clothes pins are scattered on a wooden table. One is standing upright and holding a green paper sign with black lettering “UPDATE”.

Uniform Guidance has been updated effective November 12, 2020. Several sections have been updated with new rules, revised amounts, new terminology and some clarification.

The most significant changes include the following:

  • Certain new sections (§200.211 & §200.301) indicate that, where applicable,  federal awards should include performance goals and targets.  Awarding agencies should measure performance to show achievement of goals and objectives.  We will need to see whether and how this affects individual grants.
  • Procurement Thresholds-the micro-purchase threshold has been increased to $10,000 and the simplified acquisition threshold has been increased to $250,000.  In addition, grantees with “clean audits” can elect to increase the micro-purchase threshold to $50,000.  This election is annual (§200.320).  That section also clarifies that micro-purchases do not require any competitive process.
  • The optional 10% de minimis indirect cost rate was previously available only to organizations that had not previously negotiated an indirect cost rate.  Now the de minimis rate is available to any organization that does not currently have an approved indirect cost rate.
  • Organizations that pass funds through to sub-recipients must recognize the sub- recipients’ approved indirect cost rate, but if none exist the pass-through entity must work with the sub-recipient to determine an appropriate indirect cost rate.
  • There are requirements for domestic sourcing preferences “to the greatest extent practicable” (§200.322).
  • There is also a new section (200.215) called “Never Contract with the Enemy”.  However, this only applies to grants in excess of $50,000 that are performed outside United States and its territories.
  • There is also a ban against purchasing any equipment, services, or systems that use telecommunications equipment or services manufactured by Huawei, or any of its affiliates.
  • §200.344 extends the time to close out an award from 90 calendar days to 120 calendar days after the period of performance.  Financial and performance reports must be provided within that timeframe.  That section also confirms that there are no federal requirements governing the disposition of income earned after the period of performance for the federal award unless the federal awarding agency requires a specific use.
  • The terms “budget period” and period of performance” have new definitions and a stricter requirement for incurring costs during the budget.
  • You may see a new term “Assistance Listings”.  That is the new name for the CFDA (catalog of Federal domestic assistance).  The prior CFDA numbers are now Assistance Listing Numbers.
  • Finally, OMB will be developing a website confirming each recipients indirect cost rate, base, and rate type (§200.414(h))-stay tuned!

John F. Heveron, Jr. Principal, Heveron and Company CPAs

PPP Loan Forgiveness

We don’t have all of the answers yet for PPP loan forgiveness, but there are a few key things that we do know at this point.  They include:

  • SBA confirms that you can apply for forgiveness any time up until the maturity date of the loan, but you will need to start paying on your loan 10 months after the period of forgiveness of your loan
  • you should apply for forgiveness within one year of the time you receive loan proceeds, and there may be no benefit to doing that sooner,
  • if the loan did not exceed $50,000, the forgiveness process has been simplified.  Specifically, the proof you need to provide about costs incurred is reduced.
  • some banks use their own forms but they are very similar to the forms identified below.  If your bank is not ready to process forgiveness, don’t feel any sense of urgency; they will be in the coming weeks.
Clipboard with Paycheck Protection Program, Loan Forgiveness Application. Calculator in the corner.

Use your browser to search for the following forms and instructions:

  • SBA form 3508S for forgiveness of loans that don’t exceed $50,000
  • SBA form 3508 for forgiveness of loans that exceed $50,000
  • SBA loan application forgiveness instructions, for instructions on completing the forms.

The new simplified rules for loans not exceeding $50,000 state that there is no reduction of loan forgiveness for reduction of the number of full-time employees or their pay.

For loans that do exceed $50,000, forgiveness will be reduced where the number of employees or their pay have been reduced. Employees working 40 hours or more are considered to be a full-time equivalent. Employees working less than that will have their hours divided by 40 to determine full-time equivalency. Alternatively, all employees with under 40 hours can be treated as one half of a full-time equivalent. Try both ways to see which is most beneficial.

Employers will compare the number of employees and their salary during the 8 week or 24 week timeframe for forgiveness with the “look back period” which is the period between February 15, 2019 through June 30, 2019 or January 1, 2020 thru February 29, 2020. Again, calculate this both ways to determine which is best.

If FTEs or pay are lower during the 8 or 24 week timeframe than during the look back period, forgiveness will be prorated.

There are exceptions to the penalty for reduction in FTEs. Borrowers who can document an inability to rehire individuals or restore hours on February 15, 2020 and an inability to hire similarly qualified employees before December 31, 2020 should not be penalized for reducing FTEs.

Borrowers who are unable to return to their prior level of activity between February 15, 2020 and the end of the covered period because of guidance issued by any government agencies will not be penalized.         

Similarly, even if FTEs were reduced in the payroll period beginning February 15, 2020 and ending April 26, 2020, but restored with equivalent pay by the earlier of December 31, 2020 or the date of their application for forgiveness, the penalty won’t apply.

At least 60% of the forgiveness eligible costs must be payroll (gross pay plus payroll taxes and benefits up to a $100,000 limit per person). The remaining 40% can be composed of mortgage interest, rent, utilities, and interest and loans that were in place before February 15, 2020.

Both payroll and non-payroll costs need to be paid during the 8 or 24 week timeframe you select, or at least incurred (earned) during that timeframe and paid shortly thereafter.

Finally, some tips to make the forgiveness process way easier!

  • If you can cover the entire amount of the forgiveness with payroll (not including payroll taxes), the application is much simpler. The extension from 8 weeks to 24 weeks makes this much more likely.
  • Does anyone receive compensation over $100,000? If so, see if you can justify the total forgiveness without including them. Your calculation will be easier.
  • Lastly, most of the third-party payroll processors can provide reports that contain the information you need to document forgiveness.

Of course, we have not answered all of your questions! Put PPP loan frequently asked forgiveness questions into your browser for a list of questions and answers from other sources.

John F Heveron, Jr. Principal, Heveron and Company CPAs

Program Income

Three people (Two women taking notes and one man in a suit) sit around a table with a laptop, notebooks, and a graph. One of the women is seated in a wheelchair.

There are very specific rules (in Health and Human Services Uniform Administrative Requirements in 45 CFR 75) about program income, including the costs of generating income and how that income may be used.

First, if your award (or approved budget) allows it, the costs of generating program income can be deducted from total program income in determining the net amount (which may be negative as you are getting underway).

The default for program net income is that it must be deducted from total allowable costs to determine the net amount you can be reimbursed for under your federal award.

However, if your HHS awarding agency approves, program net income can be used to expand your services.  In other words, you can incur additional costs for similar purposes using the program income.

If you continue to receive income after the period of performance of the federal award, by default, you can use that income at the discretion of your agency unless the federal awarding agency specifically states that income, after the period of performance, must be used to reduce the federal share of cost or to expand your program.

John F Heveron, Jr. Principal, Heveron and Company CPAs

Be particular about Consumer Control

Consumer control is the foundation of Independent Living, and permeates the board, staff and management of Centers as well as the Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC). The requirements are clear:

  • More than 50% (51% or more) of the board members of a Center for Independent Living must be individuals with significant disabilities.
  • More than 50% of the management staff of a Center (whether that is a single person in the Executive Director, or a management team) must be individuals with disabilities.
  • More than 50% of the other staff in a Center must be individuals with disabilities.
  • More than 50% (a majority) of the voting members of the Council must be individuals with disabilities NOT employed by any State agency or center for independent living.

These requirements make it clear — Independent Living isn’t about professional staff as much as it is about people with disabilities forming their own responses to what independence looks like in their community. There should be no hesitation if the CIL is able to have 60% or 80% or 100% people with disabilities in these areas, but absolutely individuals with disabilities MUST form a majority in every component of IL in your state. This is about consumer CONTROL! That word is used for a reason — because unless people with disabilities control the work of both CILs and SILCs, we have missed a key requirement of IL.

There is an area that appears to be a sticking point in some states. Not all disabilities are visible, so if you can’t tell if someone has a disability, you need to ask them. This is definitely not a problem with the board and the council, but asking an employee to disclose a disability is a little touchier, and you cannot ask a prospective employee if they have a disability. What to do? I suggest that you are clear in your interview with prospective employees that you are looking for a qualified person with a disability and if they aren’t aware of disability history and philosophy, provide the short version. Then ask, “What is your personal experience with disability? How do you think you will fit in at a consumer controlled organization?”

Sometimes I hear the complaint that members of the board, or the CIL ED, or council members are not “disabled enough” to serve in their role. First, note that only the members of a Center’s board are required to have a “significant disability”. That term “significant” is not used in any of the other requirements. As a person whose disability is usually not noticeable, I am sensitive to this concern. Certainly we want the community to be able to see that we are consumer controlled, and for that to happen we have to have a fair representation of visible disabilities, but that is not a requirement. When someone asks me about whether a disability is “enough”, my response is, does the person consider themselves part of the disability community? Do they interact in the world as a person with a disability in their work, their home, their community? If not, then they may technically meet the requirement but have missed the spirit of the law. We are community when we come together in our disabilities. We are strong because we are many and we represent a cross-section of disabilities, both visible and invisible.

Here is the toughest part of this conversation. You and I don’t get to decide if someone else is “disabled enough” to count. Each person makes their own declaration. We do not, and will not, require medical proof of disability. While this may allow for people claiming a disability to claim some power, I hope our community is strong enough to weather such actions and continually shift the control of the IL Network firmly to individuals with disabilities.

Is it a conflict for the CIL rep to chair the SILC?

I want to say first that it is not a conflict of interest for a CIL staff member to serve in any office on the SILC, including as chair. The regulations only require that the chair be a voting member, which is the case for all CIL staff members. Not only is it NOT a conflict of interest, but the Rehabilitation Act requires a CIL representative for a reason, and that is to assure that the council is acting in a way that shows they understand Independent Living and the role of Centers. Title VII of the Rehabilitation Act requires, in Section 705(b)2(A) among its voting members, at least 1 director of a center for independent living chosen by the directors of centers for independent living and Section 705(b)2(B) “among its voting members, for a State in which 1 or more centers for independent living are run by, or in conjunction with, the governing bodies of American Indian tribes located on Federal or State reservations, at least 1 representative of the directors of such centers.” This is the first required member(s), I think at least in part because of the importance of a CIL voice on the SILC.

Section 705(b)4(A) requires that the Council “be composed of members — (i) who provide statewide representation; (ii) who represent a broad range of individuals with disabilities from diverse backgrounds; (iii) who are knowledgeable about centers for independent living and independent living services; and (iv) a majority of whom are persons who are— (I) individuals with disabilities described in section 7(20)(B); and (II) not employed by any State agency or center for independent living.”

Note two things in this section of the law. First, ALL members appointed are to be knowledgeable about CILs and the IL services from Title VII of the Rehabilitation Act. Second, while members who work for a CIL cannot be counted in calculating the majority, that membership is not limited in any other way.

Also note that a majority of CILs in the state must agree with the SPIL. Again, evidence of the strong role that CILs are expected to play in collaboration with the SILC.

I am not saying there could never be a conflict of interest. If a specific issue came up where one center was favored over another in some way, a CIL representative may need to express the possible conflict and abstain from discussion/voting. Interestingly enough, depending on the bylaws, the chair often does not typically get a vote except to break a tie, so a CIL executive director who serves as chair might actually have less influence rather than more. But unless one CIL has some advantage over all the others, there is not a conflict. The role of the CIL representative is to make sure the voice of the CILs is heard by the council.

Which brings us back around to the question – can a SILC decide to exclude CIL members from serving on the executive committee? I strongly urge against such a policy or such language in your bylaws. The council is a body that includes at least one CIL representative selected by the CILs, and then may have other members from CILs as well. The council is a key focus point for the discussion of independent living in your state, both in the development of the SPIL and in monitoring its implementation. The CILs are critical partners in that function.

That said, I regret to tell you that it is permissible for the SILC to adopt such a policy, but I strongly discourage it.

COVID-19 awkwardness -some social thoughts

It is hard to believe most of us have been limiting social contact and working from home for more than six months. All our emergency preparedness didn’t prepare most of us for this weird situation.

And now we are entering a new phase of awkwardness – resuming changed social contact at the office and in the community. Are you used to hugging when you haven’t seen co-workers for awhile? Do you usually shake hands when you greet a consumer? Now we don’t know quite how to greet each other. Hugs and shaking hands are out. I hesitate at elbow bumps because we are coughing into our elbows, right? If we are true to six foot distancing most of us (except maybe Michael Phelps) can’t touch each other at all, not even a fist bump without getting closer. So what do we do? Wave? Maybe. And laugh a little with each other as we discuss our new social rules.

Let’s give each other permission to get used to each other again. If you are requiring masks, be aware that facial expressions are only partly visible unless you are using clear masks. Take care to listen carefully and speak carefully. Even people you have known for a long time may be responding differently than in the past, or you don’t have the facial cues you were used to so misinterpret.

Be aware that returning to work can be overwhelming, mixed with excitement and anxiety for you and your co-workers and consumers. And for parents who have the added responsibility of protecting their children in school and care situations, there is added confusion and tension. Each of us has our own coping mechanisms. For some people it is to shut others off, while other talk more than usual or laugh a lot or miss the jokes or blow their stack over little things. Some people get caught up in a frenzy of activity while others are a little dazed. If we approach this return to the office understanding that our coworkers may be feeling stressed or vulnerable, we will be more understanding and more patient with each other.

We will adapt to the new normal. Hopefully one day we will be able to lift some or all of the current restrictions. In the meantime let’s be gracious to one another. If someone reaches to shake your hand remember it is probably a habit. Let’s allow each person to set the social distance they are comfortable with — and it is okay to back away from contact. Then talk about it. And don’t be hard on yourself or your coworkers and consumers. We will figure this out.

As you return to the office…

As your communities open up following the initial closures due to COVID-19, some centers have begun to open their doors, or at least open access to the Center a little bit. Here are some practices we are seeing (in keeping with the local requirements of course).

Individual wearing a mask is posting a sign that says
“OPEN, Business as New Normal”
  • The center has invested in the needed equipment to work from home effectively, and the offices remain closed. Some policies specify that they will not reopen until a vaccine is readily available. Services are offered remotely and consumers have been equipped or connected with the technology to participate in independent living skills classes, individual appointments, peer groups, etc.
  • One or two staff are returning to the office to handle face to face appointments in urgent situations. Notice that services on site are few, and by appointment only. Masks are worn, surfaces are regularly disinfected, and there is access to UV light to disinfect cell phone, keys or other high-touch items.
  • One or two staff are in the office daily to manage phone calls, distribute mail and if needed respond to it, and keep the lights on. The office is still closed to the public.
  • Half of the staff are in the office and use a rotating schedule so that staff can socially distance. Screens have been added at reception and between cubicles. Lobbies have been reconfigured to allow for social distancing. Masks are worn. Staff are responsible for cleaning all the surfaces they touch. A janitorial contract provides regular deeper cleaning. If consumers are seen it is by appointment only.
  • Assistive technology/durable medical equipment loans or gifts are set up during phone or email contacts, and are delivered without direct contact — through a door at either the person’s home or the office. Instructions for use of equipment is demonstrated, usually by video call.

Where is your center in this process? Share any creative or interesting approaches you are taking to reopening. Use the comment option below.

Closing in on year-end — what you should do now

Image of financial report, calculator and pencil

Your current federal Part C grants are winding down for the year. By September 29 you will have encumbered any remaining funds, or they will be absorbed back into the U.S. Treasury. (You won’t see them disappear from your account right away, but you can’t use them.) Some of you have spent less than usual of your Part C federal dollars because some staff have not been working or have transferred to CARES Act funded work, vacant positions have taken longer to fill, travel is reduced, utilities in the office have been reduced, etc. If you haven’t already, you need to figure out NOW what funds are unencumbered, and if you have a need for items that will support the purposes of the grant, you should purchase them now. A few caveats:

  • You cannot save or carry over Part C dollars except to pay for expenses encumbered during the current year.
  • You cannot use these funds to pay down your debt.
  • Any expense of $5,000 or more for equipment or building improvement requires prior approval from your Program Officer at ACL.
  • Your financial statements are kept on an accrual basis. This means you cannot pre-pay expenses but must charge them when they are utilized. They will be accrued to when the funds are used.
  • You can encumber funds during the current fiscal year and pay them from this year’s funds even if the bill doesn’t come until after September 29, the last day on your grant.
  • If items are backordered but you charged them during this fiscal year, the expense is typically allowable even though the item doesn’t arrive until next fiscal year. (Does anyone else feel like backorders are much more common than they used to be?)