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Article Germany: Act to Strengthen the Disabled's Participation in Society Enters into Force

(Jan. 12, 2017) On January 1, 2017, the first phase of reforms of the controversial Federal Participation Act entered into force in Germany. The other parts will enter into force on January 1 of 2018, 2020, and 2023 respectively.  (Gesetz zur Stärkung der Teilhabe und Selbstbestimmung von Menschen mit Behinderungen (Bundesteilhabegesetz – BTHG) [Federal Participation Act] (Dec. 23, 2016), BUNDESGESETZBLATT [BGBl.] [FEDERAL GAZETTE] I at 3234, BUNDESGESETZBLATT ONLINE.) The Federal Participation Act amends several laws with the goal of strengthening the participation in society of people with disabilities and their self-determination. It provides amendments to the laws applicable to severely disabled persons, reorganizes integration assistance outside of the social security framework, increases the income and cash allowance that disabled people can have before they lose the right to receive federal benefits, establishes new independent counseling centers with peer counseling, simplifies procedures, and improves workplace integration management mechanisms in order to better identify the type of assistance or support needed to overcome a worker’s inability or difficulties in work.  (Id.)

Some activists had expressed strong opposition to the Act, saying it did not go far enough, on the one hand, or made people with disabilities less independent, on the other. (Ben Knight, Activists Angry as Germany Passes Contentious Disability Law, DEUTSCHE WELLE (Dec. 1, 2016).) Due to controversies surrounding its provisions, the draft act had gone through 68 revisions during the debate on it in the German Bundestag (parliament). The Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Andrea Nahles, characterized the new law as a “political milestone towards a more inclusive society” that “initiates a system change.” (Bundestag beschließt das Bundesteilhabegesetz [Parliament Passed the Federal Participation Act] (Dec. 1, 2016), Bundestag website.)

Increase of Income and Cash Allowance for Integration Assistance

Integration assistance is intended to remove or reduce the disadvantages resulting from a disability and to integrate disabled persons into society. (Sozialgesetzbuch (SGB) Zwölftes Buch (XII) [Twelfth Book of the Social Security Code (Social Security Code XII], (Dec. 27, 2003) BGBl. I at 3022, as amended, § 53, GERMAN LAWS ONLINE.) It includes medical and occupational rehabilitation, access to education and continuing education, and support for recognized workshops that employ people with disabilities.  (Social Security Code XII, §§ 54 & 56.) Currently, integration assistance forms part of the social security framework, which only allows anyone receiving social security to earn up to €1,208 per month (about US$1,272) and to have cash on hand of up to €2,600 (about US$2,726) without loss of eligibility for benefits.  The income and cash of a spouse or registered life partner are taken into account in the calculation.  (Social Security Code XII, §§ 85 ¶ 1, nos. 1-2, § 90 ¶ 2, no. 9; Verordnung zur Durchführung des § 90 Abs. 2 Nr. 9 des Zwölften Buches Sozialgesetzbuch [Regulation Implementing § 90 ¶ 2, no. 9, of the Twelfth Book of the Social Security Code] (Feb. 11, 1988), BGBl. I at 150, as amended, § 1 ¶ 1, no. 1b, GERMAN LAWS ONLINE.)

The Federal Participation Act takes integration assistance out of the general social security framework, thereby allowing for an increase in income and cash allowance. In 2017, the income allowance is increased by an additional €262 per month (about US$276) to a total of €1,470 (about US$1,548).  Starting in 2020, for gross income earned over €2,529 per month (about US$2,663), a disabled person will have to make a monthly contribution towards the federal benefits of 2% of the amount exceeding the €2,529.  The gross income limit is to be adjusted annually.  (Federal Participation Act, art. 1 §§ 92, 136, & 137; art. 1, no. 5; & art. 26 ¶¶ 3 & 4.)  The cash allowance is raised to a total of €27,600 (about US$28,952) in 2017 and will be increased up to approximately €50,000 (about US$52,425) by 2020.  (Id. art. 1 § 139, sentence 2; art. 11, no. 2; & art. 26, ¶¶ 3 & 4.)  In addition, starting in 2020, a partner’s income and assets will no longer be taken into account in calculating the disabled person’s income and assets.  (Id. art 1 §§ 136 & 139.)

“One-Stop Shopping” for Benefits

Until the amendment, people with disabilities who needed services from different providers were faced with long delays, jurisdictional disputes over which agency was in charge, and unnecessary repeat evaluations.  According to the Federal Participation Act, only one application will be necessary to apply for a range of services, and a uniform procedure and cooperation among the different service providers is mandated.  (Id. art. 1 §§ 14, 15, & 25.)

Peer Counseling

The Federal Participation Act establishes counseling centers that will be funded by the federal government with €58 million per year (about US$61 million) but run by independent providers.  The system of centers will mostly build on existing structures and services.  The counseling centers will advise people with disabilities on their rights and on entering the labor market and will emphasize the provision of peer counseling by people with disabilities.  (Id. art. 1 § 32.)

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