WASHINGTON — Sara Wolff's life story aptly took her to the White House on Tuesday.
There, she joined two others from her hometown of Scranton — Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey — to celebrate passage of a bill that enables families of disabled children to save money for their needs.
“I never could imagine such a great experience than being here with the champions that pushed this bill across the finish line,” Wolff, 32, who has Down syndrome, said as she stepped up to the podium. “Wow, and I get to be here with the vice president of the United States!”
Casey invited Wolff, a former intern in his Scranton office, to attend the event marking the years of work that went into the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, or ABLE law, that President Obama signed in December.
The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., allows people with disabilities to save up to $100,000 in 529-type accounts without jeopardizing government benefits. Recipients can withdraw the money tax-free to pay for medical costs, employment training, housing, education and other qualified expenses.
“This bill goes to the heart of what the president and Republican and Democrat colleagues want for all Americans: to be given an even chance,” Biden said.
Wolff works at Keystone Resources in the Office of Advocacy and is a law clerk at O'Malley & Langan Law Offices, a Scranton firm specializing in worker's compensation. She is a board member of the National Down Syndrome Society.
Casey saw her life story as one that illustrated the need for the law. Though hard-working and ambitious, Wolff would lose benefits if she earned more than $700 a month or saved more than $2,000, he noted when the bill was signed.
“It's this year that I'll finally be able to save some of my paycheck,” Wolff said.
An estimated 56.7 million people — one in five Americans — had a disability in 2010, according to the latest Census Bureau report on the disabled. ABLE accounts are limited to people designated as disabled before age 26; about 5.8 million people could be eligible for the benefits. The accounts are meant to supplement, not replace, Medicaid, Social Security, private insurance and employment benefits.
Casey called the day “joyful,” to the delight of the more than 100 attendees of families with people with disabilities.
Biden welcomed “Princess Kayla” Kosmalski, an 8-year-old Delaware native with Down syndrome who charmed everyone with her sparkly headband, red and black dress with tulle. “This is why bill was passed and signed,” he said.
Biden called the legislation a “moral imperative” that makes economic sense.
Wolff — who attended Obama's State of the Union address last month as Casey's guest — became involved with the ABLE Act in 2009 and traveled around the country advocating for the bill, visiting Washington many times. This year she authored a change.org petition that gained more than 268,000 signatures urging Congress to pass the legislation.
She testified in July before the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Taxation and IRS Oversight, on which Casey is ranking Democrat.