WASHINGTON, DC (February 16, 2012) -- Autism Speaks joined with advocates from the nation’s other leading disability organizations today to make the case before Congress for ABLE—a bill that would allow families raising children with disabilities to save tax-free for their future needs.
The briefing was organized by Reps. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) all cosponsors of HR.3423, the House version of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. A panel of disability experts, including Stuart Spielman, senior policy counsel with Autism Speaks, addressed the briefing.
The Achieving a Better Life Experience Act would level the playing field for individuals with autism (and other disabilities) and their families to save for disability-related expenses. Just as families can put away savings in tax-exempt accounts for children to go to college, the ABLE Act would allow such accounts for individuals with disabilities to cover their future education, housing, transportation and related expenses. ABLE Accounts would resemble existing 529 college savings plans and would supplement, not replace, benefits provided through Medicaid, private insurance or employment.
Stuart Spielman, Autism Speaks' director of federal relations, noted the 600 percent increase in the prevalence of autism over the past two decades and the financial hardship encountered by many families caring for loved ones with autism. The ability to plan for the future needs of loved ones with autism would offer another resource for some families, he said.
John Ariale, Rep. Crenshaw’s chief of staff, said the bill was drafted so that SSI and Medicaid benefits would not be negatively impacted by opening an ABLE account. If the account balance reaches $100,000, SSI benefits would be suspended, he said. SSI benefits would resume if the account balance drops below $100,000.
Crenshaw and Van Hollen said the bill enjoys strong bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, and already has over 90 House sponsors.
Qualified disability expenses under ABLE would include: school tuition and related educational materials; expenses for securing and maintaining a primary residence; transportation; employment supports; health prevention and wellness costs; assistive technology and personal support; and various miscellaneous expenses associated with independent living. Eligibility would extend to any individual who is receiving supplemental security income benefits or disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, or “who has a medically determined physical or mental impairment, which results in marked and severe functional limitations” that can be verified by a physician.
Spielman noted that he and his wife were able to establish a traditional 529 account for their typically developing son to save for his college expenses, but are unable to do so for their other son who has autism to save for his future life needs. The ABLE act would improve the quality of life for individuals with disabilities, he said.