Casey Discusses Bill to Create Special Savings Accounts for Individuals with Disabilities

Hosts Conference Call with Advocates

WASHINGTON, DC-U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) today held a conference call to discuss the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2009 (ABLE Act).  The ABLE Act of 2009 is bipartisan legislation he introduced to allow individuals with disabilities and their families to create tax-exempt savings accounts similar to Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA) and 529 College Savings accounts to save for the added expenses they will experience over their lifetimes.  Senator Casey was joined by advocates from the National Down Syndrome Society, National Fragile X Foundation and the Center on Autism & Developmental Disabilities as well as other advocates for individuals with disabilities.

“Parents of children with disabilities face struggles on a daily basis that we can’t even begin to imagine,” said Senator Casey.  “This legislation will help make it easier for those families to save for their care and for their future.  It will provide families with the financial piece of mind they need.”

“Families of individuals affected by autism often find themselves in a position of financial frustration.  Our families want nothing but the best for our children and we are often faced with astronomical expenses in connection with providing appropriate services,” said Jeff Sell, Vice President of Advocacy & Public Policy for the Autism Society of America. “I want nothing more than to find a way to support and provide for my twin sons who have autism so that they may have the same opportunities to be happy and lead productive, independent lives just like their neuro-typical sisters.”

"Individuals with disabilities should have access to similar financial savings tools as the rest of the population," asserts Serena Lowe, Co-Founder of the Collaboration to Promote Self-Determination, a network of 17 national organizations committed to promoting public policies aimed at improving the economic advancement of adults living with intellectual disabilities through increased employment opportunities, asset development, and securement of necessary long-term supports.  "In these tough economic times, it is imperative to encourage and empower individuals living with disabilities through the introduction of effective policies that promote their economic advancement and self-sufficiency.  The Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2009 attempts to encourage individuals to improve their financial situation through working, earning and saving without fear of having necessary supports eliminated."  "Furthermore," Lowe argues, "the enactment of this legislation would ensure that individuals with disabilities have the flexibility and choice required to spend the money to best meet the individual needs of the beneficiary.  We commend Senator Casey for his tremendous leadership in representing the financial interests of the disability community, which will impact the lives of thousands of individuals and families within the disability community."

"Individuals with disabilities and their families have too few options to save for future financial security. Currently, individuals must have exceptionally low incomes in order to access essential public services and supports. In those situations in which an individual's family wants to save for the future, a complicated web of state rules that guide special needs trust must be followed, and in nearly every circumstance, families cannot navigate the system without the assistance of an attorney. The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2009 will enable individuals with disabilities to live a meaningful and productive life without having to impoverish themselves, as is currently the case, and will ultimately help individuals become less dependent on public benefits,” said Bradford C. Turner-Little, Assistant Vice President of Government Relations for Easter Seals.

The Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2009 (ABLE Act) will allow individuals with disabilities and their families to save money and cover expenses such as education, medical and dental care, community support services, employment training and support, moving and assistive technology, housing and transportation.  

Under current law, saving for the additional expenses incurred over their lifetime, many individuals with disabilities are forced to divest of all of their assets in order to qualify for health care under Medicaid.  This requirement effectively impoverishes these individuals and prevents them and their families from building and using savings to meet expenses.  

Like IRAs and 529 College Savings Accounts, the ABLE Accounts would provide a tax incentive for family members to contribute to the savings accounts.  ABLE Accounts would be available to individuals eligible to receive supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. 

Anyone may contribute to an ABLE Account and rollovers from other accounts would be allowed without penalty; however, contributions to these accounts are capped at $500,000.  Under the proposal, the principle in the account would accrue interest tax-free during the life of the beneficiary.  When distributions are made to the beneficiary for qualified expenses, the distributions are excludable from the gross income of the beneficiary.  In the event an individual becomes disabled later in life, funds from certain existing qualified accounts, such as 529s, can be transferred to an ABLE Account.

The ABLE Act of 2009 is cosponsored by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Chris Dodd (D-CT), Richard Burr (R-NC), Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Sam Brownback (R-KS).

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