by Michelle Diament from Disability Scoop:
With significant public backing and support in Congress, advocates say federal lawmakers are poised to consider a major change to the money-saving abilities of those with disabilities.
Just one hurdle remains before Congress is expected to take up the Achieving a Better Life Experience, or ABLE, Act.
The bill — which has lingered since at least 2009 — would establish special accounts to allow people with disabilities to save up to $100,000 without risking their eligibility for benefits like Social Security. What’s more, under the plan, individuals could retain Medicaid no matter how much is deposited.
But before Congress can move forward, lawmakers are waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to weigh in with an estimate of what the bill would cost the government if it’s implemented. Once that figure is released — which could happen any day now — Congress is expected to act swiftly with advocates hoping for a floor vote in early spring.
“The ABLE Act is a must-pass piece of legislation for this Congress,” said U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., who is a member of the House leadership and a co-sponsor of the bill, in a statement to Disability Scoop.
Modeled after the popular 529 college savings plans, the ABLE Act would allow individuals with disabilities to open a special account at any financial institution to pay for education, health care, transportation, housing and other expenses. Interest earned on savings within the accounts would be tax-free.
The bill is backed by nearly every national disability advocacy group and has 63 co-sponsors in the U.S. Senate and 332 in the U.S. House of Representatives representing both political parties. An online petition favoring the act has generated more than 230,000 signatures.
“The fact that only six bills in all of Congress have this many co-sponsors is a sign of the overwhelming support for this effort to make a major difference in the lives of these families,” the measure’s chief sponsor, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said in December.
Advocates say it’s about more than just money for those with disabilities and their families. At present, individuals often cannot have more than $2,000 at any given time without forfeiting government benefits. As a result, many people with disabilities decline to seek out paid employment simply because they don’t want to risk losing access to Medicaid and other programs.
“It’s really about self-determination,” said Sara Weir, vice president of the National Down Syndrome Society.
If the ABLE Act passes, Weir said, “individuals can go out and get a job and pay for their own expenses and not be so dependent on the federal government for everything.”