Congress Weighs Expanding ABLE Act
As new accounts allowing people with disabilities to save money without jeopardizing their government benefits become increasingly available, Congress is considering changes to the program.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives introduced a package of bills this month to modify the Achieving a Better Life Experience, or ABLE, Act.
The 2014 legislation created a first-of-its-kind savings vehicle for people with disabilities, offering the ability to accrue up to $100,000 without sacrificing Social Security and other government benefits. Medicaid eligibility is not affected by any level of funds saved in the accounts.
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With three new proposals, lawmakers are looking to make ABLE accounts more available and more flexible.
The legislative package includes one bill that would incentivize work by allowing individuals with disabilities who are employed to save extra money. ABLE accounts are limited to $14,000 in annual deposits, but under the proposal, those who are working could save an additional amount equal to the federal poverty level, currently $11,770.
A separate bill would increase the eligibility age for ABLE accounts to 46. At present, individuals must have a disability that onsets before the age of 26 in order to qualify.
Meanwhile, a third bill would allow families to rollover money saved for an individual with a disability in a 529 college savings plan to an ABLE account.
“ABLE accounts already help thousands of Americans with disabilities live a fuller life,” said Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., a sponsor of the new proposals. “This legislation builds on that progress and eases the financial burden that many of these families face.”
An effort last year to push similar updates to the ABLE Act stalled amid opposition from disability advocates who wanted all three measures to advance jointly and were dismayed when one of the bills was left behind.
Since the ABLE Act was approved, 19 states have made ABLE accounts available, according to the ABLE National Resource Center. In many cases, the accounts are offered to qualifying individuals regardless of which state they reside in.
Chris Rodriguez, director of public policy at the National Disability Institute, said that based on conversations with ABLE program administrators in various states, there are about 10,000 open ABLE accounts across the country.
Rodriguez said that he and other advocates are hopeful that the new bills will be considered as part of a larger tax reform effort that members of Congress are expected to undertake soon.
“There is hope that they would move this year,” Rodriguez said.
The package of legislation that House sponsors are calling “ABLE 2.0” includes bills known as the ABLE to Work Act, the ABLE Financial Planning Act and the ABLE Age Adjustment Act.