WASHINGTON, DC (March 25, 2014) -- The Senate's top two leaders--Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)--have signed on as cosponsors of the ABLE Act, a virtual green light for efforts in Congress to create tax-free savings accounts for Americans with disabilities.
The action was doubly unusual in that members of Congress serving in leadership positions rarely sign on to sponsor or cosponsor individual pieces of legislation. Within hours, both Reid [below left], the Senate's top Democrat, and McConnell, the chamber's top Republican, cosponsored S.313, the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which is a top priority of disability organizations nationally, including Autism Speaks.
"This is a dramatic and joyous development in the years-long campaign to get this bill out of Congress," said Autism Speaks President Liz Feld. "We commend Senators Reid and McConnell for their leadership and look forward to expeditious passage of this critical legislation."
Sponsored by Senators Robert Casey (D-PA) and Richard Burr (R-NC), ABLE would allow the creation of tax-exempt savings accounts to help provide for housing, educational, job support, transportation and other needs of people with disabilities. The Senate bill now has 68 cosponsors; a companion House bill sponsored by Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) has 345 cosponsors in the 435-member House of Representatives.
Casey and Burr announced the addition of Reid and McConnell as cosponsors in a joint release.
In 1996, McConnell helped lead the bipartisan campaign that created section 529 tax-free college savings accounts, which serves as the model for the ABLE bill. In addition, he credited advocacy by Autism Speaks' Kentucky coordinator, Anne Gregory of Louisville, for encouraging him to sign on to ABLE.
“I have heard from many parents across Kentucky who have children with disabilities who find it difficult to encourage their independence and save money for the future,” McConnell said. “I proudly support the ABLE Act on behalf of the Kentucky families, children, and individuals living with disabilities, and I look forward to working with Kentucky families and organizations to help get this legislation through the Senate.”
Autism Speaks is one of 50 disability groups that is championing the bill. The New York Times in a recent editorial urged Congress to move the bill which is currently being "scored" by the Congressional Budget Office to assess its cost impact on the federal budget.
“I am so pleased to learn that Senator McConnell is co-sponsoring this critical legislation benefiting families affected by autism and other disabilities," said Gregory of Autism Speaks. "A family can save tax-free college funds for their children under a 529 plan; it is only equitable they should be able to do the same for the life-long expenses of their loved ones with disabilities, which typically far exceed the average college tuition."