President Obama Signs the ABLE Act
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President Obama Signs the ABLE Act

Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer directs Jewish Learning Venture’s Whole Community Inclusion which fosters inclusion of people with disabilities through the Philadelphia Jewish community. She loves writing/editing for “The New Normal” and for WHYY’s newsworks. Her latest book The Little Gate Crasher is a memoir of her Great-Uncle Mace Bugen, a self-made millionaire and celebrity selfie-artist who was 43 inches tall and was chosen for this year’s Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month Book Selections. She’s recently shared an ELI Talk on Standing With Families Raising Kids With Disabilities and has released a journal designed for special needs parents.

President Obama on Friday signed into law the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act which will allow families with children with disabilities to save for college and other expenses in tax-deferred accounts. The legislation was co-sponsored by Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Richard Burr (R-NC).

The ABLE Act, first introduced in 2008, amends the Internal Revenue Service Code to allow use of tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities. Families will be allowed to use the funds in the savings accounts to cover education, housing, medical and transportation expenses, among others.

Now that the President has signed the bill into federal law, it will be up to the individual states to enact it. Until now, families with children with disabilities had little incentive to save for their future. If they saved more than $2,000 for college, an apartment or transportation to work, they risked losing critical benefits for their children, including medical and supplemental coverage. This piece of legislation is an important step toward empowering people with disabilities to achieve independence and affirms self-sufficiency.

In his statement on the ABLE Act, Senator Casey acknowledges the individuals who pushed him to fight for the passing of this act:

"Eight years ago, a group of parents came to Congress, asking for help with a pressing issue— adequately saving for their children’s future. These parents, including a gentleman named Steve Beck, knew firsthand the challenges many families face when a loved one has a disability. Faced with a lifetime of extraordinary expenses, parents are told not to save or put assets in their child’s name. Thanks to Steve and countless other concerned parents, we stand ready to forever change this dynamic

Beyond this lengthy legislative history, the story of the ABLE Act is also the story of individuals like Sara Wolff, a fellow Pennsylvanian who has been one of the bill’s most vocal advocates.

Several years ago, Sara was an intern in my Scranton office. Today, Sarah is 31 years old and has two jobs. She works at Keystone Resources in the Office of Advocacy and is also a Law Clerk at a firm in my hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania. She also serves on the board of several organizations including the National Down Syndrome Society.

Sara happens to have Down Syndrome. She a productive member of society and has goals and ambitions just like any other hard-working American. But a set of unfair rules has held Sara back by making it difficult for her to save money. In order to avoid being cut off from critical benefits, Sara has had to carefully avoid amassing more than two thousand dollars in assets and has made arrangements with her employers to keep her monthly pay below seven hundred dollars a month.

For years, this disincentive to save has stood in the way of Sara’s efforts to plan for future costs, her desire to live a fuller and more productive life, and her wish to pursue her own dreams and aspirations."

With the passing of the ABLE Act, families and individuals will now be able to save and plan for the future in a way that supports independence.

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