Washington, DC- Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) announced that his Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act was signed into law this afternoon by President Obama. The bill will allow families who have a child with a disability to save for their long-term care through 529-style savings accounts. The ABLE Act passed the Senate on Tuesday with a final vote of 76-16, and it passed the House last week with a final vote of 404-17. This legislation has been called “…the broadest legislation to help [people with disabilities] in nearly a quarter-century.”
Below is a statement from Senator Casey:
“Eight years ago, a group of parents came to Congress, asking for help with a pressing issue—adequately saving for their children’s future. These parents, including a gentleman named Steve Beck, knew firsthand the challenges many families face when a loved one has a disability. Faced with a lifetime of extraordinary expenses, parents are told not to save or put assets in their child’s name. Thanks to Steve and countless other concerned parents, we stand ready to forever change this dynamic.
The ABLE Act has been a collaborative effort. The bill was first introduced by Senators Hatch and Dodd in 2008, under the name of the Disabilities Savings Act. In each session since, Senator Burr and I have introduced the bill under the name of the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act. Today, we are proud to say that we will pass the ABLE Act with the support of over 480 members of Congress.
Beyond this lengthy legislative history, the story of the ABLE Act is also the story of individuals like Sara Wolff, a fellow Pennsylvanian who has been one of the bill’s most vocal advocates.
Several years ago, Sara was an intern in my Scranton office. Today, Sarah is 31 years old and has two jobs – she works at Keystone Resources in the Office of Advocacy and is also a Law Clerk at a firm in my hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania. She also serves on the board of several organizations including the National Down Syndrome Society.
Sara happens to have Down syndrome. She a productive member of society and has goals and ambitions just like any other hard-working American. But a set of unfair rules has held Sara back by making it difficult for her to save money. In order to avoid being cut off from critical benefits, Sara has had to carefully avoid amassing more than two thousand dollars in assets and has made arrangements with her employers to keep her monthly pay below seven hundred dollars a month.
For years, this disincentive to save has stood in the way of Sara’s efforts to plan for future costs, her desire to live a fuller and more productive life, and her wish to pursue her own dreams and aspirations.
Stories like Sara’s are common across the country. Millions of Americans are currently living with disabilities, and many of them have also had to endure significant uncertainty about their ability to cover basic expenses in the future. They have struggled to keep up with the rising cost of housing, transportation and medical assistance. A growing number of Americans with disabilities are outliving their parents, and are forced to rely on government assistance when family support disappears. This is partly because Americans with disabilities have not had the same incentives to save that other Americans enjoy.
The ABLE Act changes this unfair situation by creating tax-advantaged plans for disability-related incentives, and by allowing Americans with disabilities to save without losing eligibility for government programs.
Sara has told me that the ABLE Act will change her life for the better. With an ABLE account, she will be able to save for future expenses including transportation, housing, healthcare and community-based support, without worrying that her hard work will make her ineligible to receive government benefits. The immediate impact of the ABLE Act will be to give Sara financial peace of mind. In the long run, this savings vehicle will also make it easier for Sara to live independently, and pursue her goals.
That is why since 2009, Sara has been a leading champion of the ABLE Act. She has traveled all over the country advocating for this legislation, and has visited Washington countless times. Earlier this year, she authored a change.org petition calling on Congress to pass the ABLE Act. This petition earned the support of over 268,000 individuals from across the country. In July, she testified before the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Taxation and IRS Oversight, stressing the importance of the ABLE Act to her and millions of other Americans with disabilities.
It is thanks to the commitment of disability advocates like Sara that we stand ready to pass this important piece of legislation. I am particularly grateful for the leadership of the National Down Syndrome Society, Autism Speaks, the Arc of Pennsylvania, and numerous others who have put the full resources of their organizations behind this effort.
I am also grateful for the leadership of Senator Burr, who has been a tireless advocate for the ABLE Act. I remember earlier this year, my friend remarking that ABLE is ‘one train you don’t want to get in front of.’ His determination and that of his staffer Natasha Hickman were instrumental to the ABLE effort.
We could not have passed the ABLE Act without the support of Finance Committee leadership and staff. I would like to give special recognition to Chairman Wyden and numerous members of his staff who have worked on this bill, including Tiffany Smith on the Chairman’s tax team who worked for years on the ABLE Act. Senator Hatch, an early supporter of this idea deserves a lot of credit as well. Thank you to your entire team for their hours of work on ABLE.
I also want to extend my gratitude to our bipartisan team in the House of Representatives, led by Representatives Crenshaw and Van Hollen and with incredible support from Representatives McMorris Rogers and Sessions. Watching the big, bipartisan vote a couple of weeks ago in the House of Representatives is a testament to your efforts.
I want to thank the Senate Leaders, Senators Reid and McConnell, for their support. Your determination and the assistance of your staffers Cathy Koch and Brendan Dunn have been key to the success of this effort.
I am grateful to everyone on my staff who worked on this bill, especially to my legislative director, Dick Spiegelman and our lead policy advisor, Jennifer McCloskey. Jennifer shepherded this bill through countless hours of meetings and negotiations in the House and Senate, and she worked tirelessly with many advocates to ensure that their voices were heard in the crafting of this legislation. I thank her for her determination and hard work to get the ABLE Act across the finish line.
Finally, I want to thank one of those concerned dads who brought the idea for ABLE to Congress—Steve Beck. Steve worked for years on this issue. When the House passed ABLE, I understand issued the loudest cheer came from Steve. Steve passed away last week but his legacy lives on through the Stephen Beck, Jr. Achieving a Better Life Experience Act. Thank you to Steve and his family for your efforts to provide millions with a better future.”