Americans with disabilities deserve equal opportunities for economic self-sufficiency. On July 26, 1990, we took an important step toward this goal by passing the Americans with Disabilities Act. By prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities, the ADA has changed the lives of millions of Americans with disabilities. However, in order to continue working towards access to equal opportunities for Americans with disabilities, there is more work to be done. As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the passage of the ADA, we can honor its legacy and build upon its mission by passing the ABLE Age Adjustment Act.
There is no question that living with a disability can often come with significant financial challenges. Just six years ago, all Americans with disabilities risked losing their means-tested benefits anytime they saved more than $2,000. This discouraged saving and increased financial instability among individuals who already have significantly higher costs of living. In acknowledgement of this difficult situation, the ABLE Act was passed in 2014.
Through tax-advantaged savings accounts created under the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, eligible individuals are now able to save money without the risk of losing important public assistance. Funds in ABLE accounts can be used to pay for any disability-related expenses – from health care to education, transportation, adaptive equipment, assistive technology, personal support services, and more.
However, after more than five years, and on the 30th birthday of the ADA, millions of Americans with disabilities still remain ineligible to open an ABLE account due to an age cut-off written into the original legislation. Currently, individuals must acquire their disability by the age of 26 in order to be ABLE-eligible. This prohibits millions of Americans with disabilities from participating in this important program simply because they acquired their disability after turning 26 years of age.
While enrollment in ABLE programs is growing, age-adjustment legislation would greatly enhance the impact of the program. It is increasingly common for disabilities to be diagnosed later in life, most notably amongst our Veteran population. Through the ABLE Age Adjustment Act, a bipartisan bill that would lift the ABLE age cap from 26 to 46, we can give millions of additional Americans with disabilities the opportunity to save.
This legislation is now more urgent than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of economic stability and personal savings, especially for Americans with disabilities. Adults with disabilities experience higher rates of unemployment and underemployment and are more likely to be employed only part-time. In the midst of this difficult time, these statistics make it even more critical that we ensure more Americans with disabilities have access to the opportunity to save through ABLE accounts.
So, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the ADA, we must reflect upon the purpose of this legislation – to ensure that Americans with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as all other Americans. This includes the right to save and attain financial independence. The best way we can honor and build upon the monumental legacy of the ADA is by passing the ABLE Age Adjustment Act.
Fiona Ma is the California State Treasurer and chair of the NAST ABLE Committee.
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