NAD Condemns the Depletion of State TRS Funds by State Legislatures
The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) is disturbed by a growing trend among state legislatures of taking funds from state telecommunications relay services (TRS) funds and using them for non-TRS purposes. These are intrastate funds that are used for TTY relay services, CapTel, Hearing Carry-Over, and Voice Carry-Over services and not IP-Relay or Video Relay Services. Most recently, the states of Alabama and Montana have passed bills to transfer state TRS funds to other non-TRS funds. These transfers are being made under special circumstances and will not necessarily happen on a regular basis in the future.
Under Title IV of the Americans with Disabilities Act, common carriers (telephone companies) are required to establish interstate and intrastate TRS 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. TRS enables deaf and hard of hearing callers to communicate with non-deaf people through a third party communications assistant. To provide this service, common carriers pay into TRS funds which are used to provide this service. These payments are a form of taxation in exchange for the actual provision of telecommunications services in the United States.
A preliminary review of FCC rules and guidelines has not shown a definitive answer on the propriety of using TRS funds for other purposes, but NAD continues to research this issue. Nevertheless, NAD opposes this type of transfer when relay services are still not functionally equivalent.
While these state legislatures may believe that the “extra” funds are surplus funds and extra money that is not needed for intrastate TRS services, this could not be further from the truth. Deaf and hard of hearing Americans are still far from achieving functional equivalency in telecommunications. Problems continue with TRS calls ranging from subpar equipment, outdated video communication technology and unqualified communications assistants and interpreters. The day has not yet arrived where deaf and hard of hearing people can make TRS calls and feel confident in the quality of the calls. Further, we have a long way to go in improving equipment and services for deaf blind callers and deaf and hard of hearing callers who have other disabilities.
Instead of depleting these intrastate TRS funds for other purposes, these funds should be used to improve the quality of TRS for all deaf and hard of hearing Americans in their respective states. NAD stands ready to assist and strongly encourages its members and state organizations to contact their respective state legislatures and Public Utility Commissions (or whichever group oversees the state TRS fund) and explain to them the need to use all TRS funds for TRS.