With final approval from Congress, a bill that would establish a new way for people with disabilities to save money is headed to President Barack Obama. (Ellen Creager/Detroit Free Press/TNS)

With final approval from Congress, a bill that would establish a new way for people with disabilities to save money is headed to President Barack Obama. (Ellen Creager/Detroit Free Press/TNS)

The U.S. Senate has voted overwhelmingly to send legislation to the president establishing a new way for people with disabilities to save money without risking their government benefits.

Lawmakers voted 76 to 16 to approve the bill as part of a package of tax measures Tuesday evening. The legislation will now go to President Barack Obama to sign.

Originally known as the Achieving a Better Life Experience, or ABLE, Act, the legislation which has been under consideration since 2006 was recently renamed the Stephen Beck, Jr. Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014. A longtime proponent of the bill, Beck died unexpectedly earlier this month.

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The ABLE Act would allow people with disabilities to establish special accounts where they could save money to pay for education, health care, transportation, housing and other expenses. Individuals could deposit up to $14,000 annually under current gift-tax limitations and accrue as much as $100,000 without risking eligibility for Social Security and other government programs.

Meanwhile, the bill ensures that people with disabilities can retain Medicaid coverage no matter how much money is saved in their ABLE account.

“This landmark legislation puts a stake in the ground that people with disabilities, for the first time ever, can work and save money for the future,” said Sara Weir, interim president of the National Down Syndrome Society.

The accounts are modeled after 529 college savings plans and interest earned on savings would be tax-free.

The bill does include some limitations, however. Each person may only have one ABLE account and to qualify a person must have a condition that occurred before the age of 26.

“It’s utterly unacceptable that our current laws doom a child born with a disability to a lifetime of poverty and dependence,” said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., one of the measure’s chief sponsors. “The ABLE Act will take the first critical step in ending this injustice.”