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