The ABLE Act would allow people with disabilities to create special accounts where they could save money to pay for education, housing and other needs. (Gary O'Brien/Chalotte Observer/TNS)

The ABLE Act would allow people with disabilities to create special accounts where they could save money to pay for education, housing and other needs. (Gary O’Brien/Chalotte Observer/TNS)

Congress is set to act this week on legislation that would allow people with disabilities to save money without jeopardizing their government benefits.

Supporters say they expect the U.S. House of Representatives to vote on the Achieving a Better Life Experience, or ABLE, Act on Wednesday and they’re hopeful that the Senate will follow suit on Thursday.

“This is historic for the disability community,” said Sara Weir, interim president of the National Down Syndrome Society, which has pushed for the ABLE Act since 2006. “I can’t think of another piece of legislation that puts a stake in the ground that says that people with disabilities can work and save money.”

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The bill would allow people with disabilities to create ABLE accounts at any financial institution where they could deposit up to $14,000 annually under current gift-tax limitations. As much as $100,000 could be saved in the proposed accounts without risking eligibility for Social Security and other government benefits. Moreover, individuals could retain Medicaid coverage no matter how much money is deposited.

Modeled after the popular 529 college savings plans, interest earned on savings within the accounts would be tax-free. Money saved could be used to pay for education, health care, transportation, housing and other expenses.

With 85 percent of Congress co-sponsoring the bill, it is widely thought to have the votes needed for approval. However, the legislation is not without its critics.

Both the National Council on Independent Living and the National Disability Rights Network have taken issue with a requirement that an individual’s disability must have occurred prior to age 26 in order to qualify for an ABLE account.

“It’s completely arbitrary,” said Kelly Buckland, executive director of the National Council on Independent Living. “Why 26? Why not 27, or 28 or 30?”

Meanwhile, the conservative group The Heritage Foundation has attacked the bill as a “decisive step in expanding the welfare state.”

Weir from the National Down Syndrome Society said that assessment could not be further from the truth.

“This is a bill that allows families and people with disabilities to save their own money. This is not a handout,” she said.