By a vote of 404-17, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted in favor of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act on December 3, paving the way for people with disabilities to create new savings accounts for to pay for disability related expenses.
“We appreciate the untiring work of the chief sponsors of the bill and the support of a large and broad representation in Congress,” the Arc said in a blog post. “The ABLE Act is a good example of how members of both political parties can work together to craft legislation that benefits people with disabilities, as disability knows no political, geographic, gender, or ethnic boundaries.”
The bill would amend the Internal Revenue Code to allow people with disabilities and their caregivers to set aside as much as $14,000 per year, up to a maximum of $100,000, into a new tax-free account, similar to a 529 college savings plan. The money could be used for a range of “qualifying disability expenses,” including “higher education expenses, a primary residence, transportation, obtaining and maintaining employment, health and wellness, and other personal support expenses,” according to the bill summary.
The money in these accounts would not be calculated for the purposes of determining eligibility for federal means-tested programs, such as Social Security Disability Insurance and Medicaid. As a result, more people will likely be able to receive such assistance, without jeopardizing their long-term assets.
The accounts, however, will only be available to people whose disabilities form prior to age 26. Such disability rights group as the National Disability Rights Network and the National Council on Independent Living have criticized the limitation.
“It’s completely arbitrary,” Kelly Buckland, executive director of the National Council on Independent Living, told Disability Scoop. “Why 26? Why not 27, or 28 or 30?”
The bill, first introduced in 2006, had more than 380 sponsors in the House.
A bipartisan group of Senators announced an agreement in September to move forward with a companion bill. The Senate is expected to pass the bill in the coming days, clearing the way for the bill to be sent to President Obama for his signature.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), whose son has Down Syndrome, praised the bill’s passage.
“We were told don’t put any assets in his name because it may disqualify him for programs that he may need in the future,” McMorris Rodgers told TIME Magazine. “And it just seems wrong to me.
“And I think that the ABLE Act is going to help fix that. It’s going to help create a way for families to save money [and] set money aside to cover qualified expenses. It can go to education, transportation, housing—those are the benefits that would allow our son potentially to live independently and to hopefully work.”
Disability Rights Washington, which operates this Galaxy website, is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and members of the National Disability Rights Network.