Proposed Changes To ABLE Act Draw Opposition
In an unusual move, dozens of disability advocacy groups say they’re ready to line up against efforts in Congress to expand the Achieving a Better Life Experience, or ABLE, Act over concerns that the changes don’t go far enough.
More than 80 groups say they will oppose legislation that would enhance options for individuals with disabilities who are currently eligible for ABLE accounts. That is, they say, unless lawmakers also act to increase the eligibility age for the new savings vehicle.
Under the ABLE Act, people with disabilities can establish special accounts where they can save up to $100,000 without jeopardizing Social Security and other government benefits. Medicaid eligibility is not affected by any level of funds accrued in the accounts.
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But a provision added to the law before it was passed in 2014 limited such accounts to people with a disability that onset by age 26.
Just last month, the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance approved two bills giving more flexibility to those who are already eligible for ABLE accounts. The ABLE to Work Act would allow people with disabilities who are employed to save additional money each year in their accounts while the ABLE Financial Planning Act would let money saved for an individual with a disability in a 529 college savings plan be rolled over into an ABLE account.
However, a third bill — raising the eligibility age to 46 — was left out of any discussions before the Senate committee. And that has many advocates feeling shortchanged.
“The limitation on eligibility based on age of onset of disability did not exist in the original legislation and was added at the end of the ABLE Act’s eight year legislative history with the understanding that Congress would act to restore the broader eligibility criteria,” reads letters signed by 82 disability advocacy groups that were sent this week to key lawmakers in the Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.
The last-minute addition of the age criteria led many people who had championed the ABLE Act for years to be left out, said Chris Rodriguez, senior public policy advisor at the National Disability Institute and co-chair of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Task Force on Financial Security, which initiated the correspondence to lawmakers.
“It was the understanding of the disability community that the age concession would be addressed as soon as possible,” Rodriguez said. “We support the age adjustment being addressed before additional benefits are made available to those who are already eligible.”
Groups that have pledged to oppose some ABLE bills include The Arc, the Autism Society, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the National Down Syndrome Congress, United Cerebral Palsy and others largely representing individuals who would easily meet the existing cutoff at age 26.
Notably missing from the signatories on the letters, however, are the National Down Syndrome Society and Autism Speaks, two of the most vocal groups in the push to get the ABLE Act passed two years ago.
The two organizations said they support all three of the ABLE bills currently on the table, but say the cost associated with the age increase makes it less likely to pass in the near future.
“The reality is that the Financial Planning Act and the ABLE to Work Act cost less than $50 million combined over 10 years. The age increase costs $2 billion over 10 years,” said Sara Hart Weir, president of the National Down Syndrome Society. “We’ll need to come up with a solution to lower the cost of the bill and make it politically viable.”
To date, ABLE accounts are available through programs in four states. Florida’s program offers accounts to residents of that state, while accounts created through programs in Nebraska, Ohio and Tennessee are available to individuals nationwide. Another 15 states are expected to begin offering ABLE accounts by the end of this year, Weir said.
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