Press Conference Celebrates One Year Anniversary Support of ABLE Act

November 26, 2012

by Jody Smith

A year ago, on Nov. 15, 2011, the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE Act – HR 3423/S 1872) was introduced in Congress. On the one-year anniversary of the introduction of the bill, a press conference was held to build on the continuing support to make changes to the U.S. tax code. Since its introduction last year in the 112th Congress, the bill has gained support from 234 House Members and 40 Senate Members.

If passed, the ABLE Act would amend Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Service Code of 1986, so that tax-free savings accounts would be available for disabled individuals. This bipartisan bill would provide for tax-advantaged savings accounts for people with disabilities, for expenses including education, housing and transportation. The act would allow money to be saved without the risk of losing government benefits.

People with disabilities would be able to create special savings accounts that could accumulate up to $100,000 and still be able to keep their Medicaid and/or Social Security benefits. Currently, people with disabilites aren’t allowed to have more than $2,000 without giving up many of their government benefits. Passage of the ABLE Act would remove this limitation. The ABLE accounts would be modeled on 529 college savings plans. All interest on these savings would be tax-free.

The press conference was held at the East Front House Triangle on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. The effort to see the ABLE Act passed has been supported by a coalition of three dozen organizations. The list of expected speakers included Congressman Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), Senator Robert Casey (D-PA), Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX) and Congressman Christ Van Hollen (D-MD). They were joined by House and Senate bill co-sponsors and representatives from The Arc, Autism Speaks and the National Down Syndrome Society.

Congressman Crenshaw said that while Americans saving for college and retirement received advantages to the tax code as it stands now, advantages do not extend to those with disabilities. The ABLE Act would reduce financial burdens for this segment of American society. He referred to Jenny Cunningham of Worthington, OH, a self-advocate with the National Down Syndrome Society who told her story. Cunningham described some of the difficulties she faced as she struggled to be financially independent. She asked that Congress would make it possible for her family to invest in her future, as they were able to do for siblings going to college.

Representative Chris Van Hollen has been one of the lead co-sponsors of the bill. Joyce Lipman, former member of The Arc’s Board of Directors, and her daughter Elise are among Hollen’s constituents. Lipman attended the press conference with her daugher, who would benefit from the ABLE Act. Lipman told hearers that Elise would have more security in her life with the passage of the bill. Hollen spoke highly of Lipman and her daughter as being strong advocates for the ABLE Act. He expressed the hope that Congress will pass the bill before adjournment.

Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc, talked about the improved quality of life that could come from passing the ABLE Act. He cited financial challenges like being able to rent an apartment, being able to get to work, or being able to afford to pursue secondary education without losing benefits. He called the bill a tool to help families become more fulfilled and more independent.

Peter Bell, Executive Vice President of Programs and Services for Autism Speaks, said that as autism continues to increase, the ABLE Act will help to address the public health crisis in a financially responsible way.

The National Down Syndrome Society flew in 20 self-advocates and parents of people with disabilities to lobby lawmakers in Washington, D.C. for the bill. Sara Weir, Vice President of Advocacy & Affiliate Relations for the National Down Syndrome Society said that the bill is continuing to gain in momentum. Weir said that it would be hard to find another piece of legislation that has as much bipartisan support as the ABLE Act.

Further Reading:

ABLE Act Press Conference
http://www.autismpolicyblog.com/2012/11/able-act-press-conference.html

Congress Urged To Create Tax-Free Disability Savings Accounts
http://www.disabilityscoop.com/2012/11/13/congress-urged-savings-accounts/16833

ABLE Act to be Unveiled and Introduced
http://insider.thearc.org/2011/11/14/able-act-to-be-unveiled-and-introduced

Crenshaw, Casey to Outline Road Ahead for ABLE Act at Nov. 15 Press Conference
http://crenshaw.house.gov/index.cfm/press

The Arc’s Joyce Lipman Speaks at Press Conference Supporting the ABLE Act
http://insider.thearc.org/2012/11/19/the-arcs-joyce-lipman-speaks-at-press-conference-supporting-the-able-act

 

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8 comments

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

MishMash November 27, 2012 at 12:05 am

A noble act by Congress. Maybe the tide is changing. Hope they get this done for all those who have nothing after getting sick.

SpecialK82 November 27, 2012 at 11:48 am

Thanks for the detailed reporting Jody. I had no idea.

Jody November 27, 2012 at 2:50 pm


SpecialK82

Thanks for the detailed reporting Jody. I had no idea.

Thanks SpecialK,

It is a pretty big deal that has been in the works for awhile. I noticed that some of the members of congress who were there to speak and offer their support also have family members who live with disabilities. A case of knowing first hand what difficulties are being faced, and a personal desire to see things change. Doesn't hurt.

jspotila November 27, 2012 at 5:24 pm

It's very important to distinguish between the two kinds of Social Security benefits and the effects of this bill. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) has NO asset limit. You could have $1,000,000 in assets and still collect SSDI. Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) DOES have an asset limit. It is a need-based program, with an eligibility requirement for income and assets. This bill helps people collecting SSI.

Jody November 27, 2012 at 7:06 pm


jspotila

It's very important to distinguish between the two kinds of Social Security benefits and the effects of this bill. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) has NO asset limit. You could have $1,000,000 in assets and still collect SSDI. Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) DOES have an asset limit. It is a need-based program, with an eligibility requirement for income and assets. This bill helps people collecting SSI.

Thanks for the clarification jspotila.:)

jimells November 28, 2012 at 1:35 pm

I probably sound like a broken record, but this is more re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Congress and Obama are about to take a meat axe to Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps, God knows what else, and they are celebrating that poor people can earn .1% interest on their savings accounts and not pay taxes on it? If someone told me this was a story from The Onion, I would believe it. How can anyone on SSI, which typically pays around $700 a month, save even ten dollars? Since "everyone" supports the bill, why is it still pending after a year?

There are SIX MILLION people in the US whose only income is food stamps, including myself. I can't wait for the day when I no longer have to pay income taxes on my "savings"…

caledonia November 28, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Right, there are two kinds of disability, SSDI for those who have worked and paid into the system, and SSI, for those who have not. For SSDI, you can have any amount of savings. For SSI, there is an income and asset limit of $2000 (outside of one house and one car).

I'm on SSDI, but based on my low income, I would also qualify for SSI, if only I didn't have so many assets. You can "spend down" your assets to qualify, but I'm not willing to do that until circumstances force me to.

This is where I'm getting confused – if I put my assets in one of these special accounts, would I then be able to qualify for SSI? There are many programs I could get such as food stamps or heat assistance if I was on SSI.

caledonia November 28, 2012 at 3:16 pm

One other point – since my income is below $25k, I already don't have to pay taxes. I don't see what one of these special accounts would get me.

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