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Congress Unites Behind Disability Assistance

d1Examples of bipartisanship are few and far between on Capitol Hill. But in recent weeks, at least one bill has managed to win broad support from across the political spectrum: the ABLE Act for Americans with disabilities.

Also known as the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, the legislation would create new tax-exempt investment accounts for individuals diagnosed with a disability by age 26. The individuals could use the accounts to save up to $100,000, without fear of losing federal benefits. (Currently, the asset limit for recipients of Medicaid and Supplementary Security Income is a mere $2000). The individuals could then tap into the accounts to cover expenses related to education, transportation, health, and housing.

The implications of this Act would be significant. Americans with disabilities would no longer feel compelled to spend their money, or reject career opportunities, in order to qualify for government disability assistance (given assets limits). They would also gain access to the “same flexible savings tools available to other Americans” in the form of tax-exempt 529 accounts.

Thus, according to the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), the ABLE Act will greatly “ease financial strains faced by individuals with disabilities”. It will allow them to “achieve a foothold towards financial independence”. Moreover, in the words of Representative McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), whose son has Down syndrome, the Act “brings us another step closer to empowering people with disabilities to reach their full potential”.

But not everyone is supportive. The Heritage Foundation, for example, calls the Act “a decisive step in expanding the welfare state” that would further complicate the tax code. In response, the NDSS asserts that “This isn’t a handout from government…it’s allowing families and individuals to save the private funds that they raised”. Some lawmakers have also expressed concern about lost tax revenue from the Act. However, key amendments (to limit eligibility and the number of accounts per person) have reduced cost estimates from $20 billion to $2 billion.

Going forward, the House of Representatives will vote on the ABLE Act in December. The Senate has not yet scheduled a vote, but supporters led by Senator Casey (D-PA) expect one before the end of the legislative session. Assuming that the bills reach the floor, their passage is virtually guaranteed. After all, with 381 House sponsors and 74 Senate sponsors, the Act enjoys a sizable majority of support in both chambers.

Want to learn more about the ABLE Act, or how you can help Americans with disabilities? Please contact our non-profit partners:

Flickr photo credit: Andreas-photography

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Thankful? Prove It – Donate to a Food Bank!

3Thanksgiving in the United States is only a few weeks away. Just in time for the holiday, Feeding America has released its latest report, Hunger in America 2014. The report is part of a quadrennial series that provides comprehensive profiles of the hungry to guide US policy development. It is based on interviews with more than 60,000 subjects using 200 food banks.

This year’s report reveals some staggering realities. Foremost, approximately 50 million Americans—or 1 in 6—currently suffer from hunger. This includes at least 7 million seniors and 12 million children. Not surprisingly, these individuals report relatively modest incomes. In fact, their median annual household income is $9,175 (compared to $53,891 for the general US population). Additionally, nearly half report only “fair” or “poor” health.They suffer from particularly high rates of diabetes and hypertension.

But, in many respects, these individuals defy common stereotypes. According to the report, 54% of surveyed households have at least 1 employed member. 41% have at least 1 member with post-secondary education. 20% have at least 1 military veteran. And only 5% of survey respondents are homeless, as defined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

So how do these individuals cope? Currently, approximately 46 million Americans are enrolled in the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Formerly known as food stamps, SNAP provides food-purchasing assistance to eligible, low-income individuals and families. Certain subsets also take advantage of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), and the School Breakfast Program (SBP). However, such federal assistance is often insufficient. In fact, among the 55% of surveyed households who receive SNAP benefits, “a fifth exhaust their full month’s benefit within a week”.

Consequently, over the last year, 46.5 million individuals turned to Feeding America-affiliated food banks for help. Combined, they visited the food banks 389 million times. Thus, “many individuals are routinely turning to the Feeding America network to meet their nutrition and food budget needs”.

Some also resorted to more drastic measures. Over two-thirds of surveyed households chose between paying for food and paying for utilities, transportation, or medical care during the last year. 35% sold or pawned property to increase their food budget. Furthermore, 40% watered down food or drinks to “make them last longer” or feed everyone in the home.

Given these shocking statistics, Op4G is pleased to promote our partner food banks this month. Currently, these partners include: New Hampshire Catholic Charities, the Oregon Food Bank, the SF-Marin Food Bank, the Vermont Food Bank, the Friends of Saint Joseph’s Pantry, Operation: Sack Lunch, Cumac, the Community Food Bank, and the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.

As of November 11, Op4G members have donated $18,650 to these food banks. In fact, the Second Harvest Food Bank alone has received $11,504! In this month of Thanksgiving, Op4G encourages our members to complete more surveys for our partner food banks. Remember, every dollar can provide 10 meals!

Flickr photo credit: Peter aka anemoneprojectors