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ABLE Act Wins Warm Reception At Senate Hearing

July 23, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC (July 23, 2014) -- The ABLE Act, which would allow tax-free savings accounts for people with disabilities, was warmly received today by a U.S. Senate committee which heard testimony from supportive witnesses, including Bob D'Amelio, a North Carolina advocate who spoke on behalf of Autism Speaks.

The hearing by the Senate Finance Committee's subcommittee on taxation and IRS oversight, was the first by Congress on the bill, S.313, which was introduced in February 2013. Sponsored by Sen. Robert Casey (D-PA), left the bill has 74 co-sponsors; the House version, HR.647, sponsored by Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), has 367 co-sponsors.

"No other bill in Congress has this level of bipartisan, bicameral support," said Casey, who chairs the subcommittee. "This level of support is a testament to the hard work of families and other disability advocates, many of whom are present here today. It is also reflects the importance of what the ABLE Act does."

The ABLE Act (Achieving A Better Life Experience) would mirror Section 529 college savings accounts by allowing families and individuals with disabilities to set aside tax-free savings to pay for housing, education, transportation, job support and other costs. Participants would not lose their Medicaid or Social Security benefits.

“The legislation we are considering today is a step towards making the promise of the Declaration of Independence ring true for all of us,” said Sen. Michael Enzi (R-WY), the ranking member of the subcommittee.

D'Amelio and his wife, Christi, live in Charlotte with their three children, including two sons with autism.

"The current section 529 plans fall short for the many individuals with autism and other disabilities who cannot or choose not to go on to college," D'Amelio testified before the committee. "As much as anything else, the ABLE Act is about fairness. If Christi and I can use a college savings account to provide for our daughter Lindsey’s future, why can’t we use something similar to take care of Nicholas and Christopher?

"I would love to sleep at night knowing that I was doing everything I could to secure the future of my children. My son Christopher is a very smart young man, but he will need a job coach and at some point a residential program," he continued. "Saddling my daughter Lindsey with a big financial burden is not fair when Christi and I can provide for Christopher. Lindsey is already mature beyond her ten years of age.  She knows that she will be looking after Christopher and keeping tabs on Nicholas for her entire life."

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), right, the lead Senate Republican sponsor of ABLE, said, “It’s hard for me to find a reason why anyone would want to get in the way of a bill that allows the parents of a disabled child the opportunity to save their own money for their child’s future and to give that child a shot at financial independence.”

Other witnesses included Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-WA), whose son, Cole, has Down syndrome; Sara Wolff, a self-advocate and board member with the National Down Syndrome Society; and Chase Alston Phillips, a financial advisor from northern Virginia.

"Our outdated laws encourage women and men with disabilities to resign themselves to a life of dependence by spending down their assets rather than saving them for future expenses," said McMorris Rogers. "Unless families have the resources to hire an attorney to create a special trust or some other complicated savings vehicle, there is no other option to establish financial security without risking access to critical government programs for individuals with disabilities. And that’s just not fair."

Because ABLE is a tax bill, it must be first voted out of the House.