States Moving Forward On ABLE Accounts
Just months after federal lawmakers created a way for people with disabilities to save without risking their government benefits, most states are working to make the new accounts available.
The Achieving a Better Life Experience, or ABLE, Act, which was signed late last year by President Barack Obama, paves the way for people with disabilities to open special accounts where they can save up to $100,000 without jeopardizing eligibility for Social Security and other government programs.
Before the accounts can become available, however, states must put regulations in place.
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To date, lawmakers in more than half of states have taken steps to create the new savings vehicles, advocates say.
This week, legislatures in West Virginia and Utah sent ABLE bills to their governors for approval. Legislation is also before the governor in Virginia.
What’s more, active bills are under consideration in legislatures in 29 states and draft bills are in the works in an additional seven, according to Heather Sachs, director of state government affairs for the National Down Syndrome Society.
“We are very, very pleasantly surprised at how quickly states are moving on this,” Sachs said.
Despite the momentum across much of the country, however, lawmakers in some states have opted to wait on ABLE legislation until after federal officials issue regulations on the new accounts, a move expected by the end of the summer.
This week, the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Department of Treasury sought to urge those states along, with a notice assuring lawmakers that a transition period will be incorporated in any guidance to account for circumstances in which state rules do not fully comply with federal requirements.
“The Treasury Department and the IRS do not want the lack of guidance to discourage states from enacting their enabling legislation and creating their ABLE programs, which could delay the ability of the families of disabled individuals or others to begin to fund ABLE accounts for those disabled individuals,” the agencies said.
Even in states where legislation is enacted, Sachs said she expects it will be at least late this year, but more likely 2016 or 2017 before people with disabilities can open ABLE accounts. That’s because the process is highly state specific and will involve significant behind-the-scenes work for governments and the banking industry, she said.
To aid in that process, disability advocates are also at work on a National ABLE Resource Center, designed to serve as an information clearinghouse on the new accounts for families, government officials, financial professionals and other stakeholders. More than a dozen advocacy groups are collaborating on the center, which is being spearheaded by the National Disability Institute and is expected to launch in July.