Opinion

Expanding the ABLE Act Will Help Those Who Need It Most

When the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act was passed in 2014, many individuals with disabilities gained the ability to create tax-advantaged savings accounts that improved their quality of life and increased their ability to participate in their communities.

Today, however, millions of Americans with disabilities remain ineligible to enroll in ABLE programs simply because of the age at which they acquired their disability. They often persist in a chronic state of financial instability, unable to fulfill the goal stated in the Americans with Disabilities Act, “to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency.”  

In order to help our nation’s most vulnerable population, Congress must expand the ABLE Act.

Recently, Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) introduced the ABLE Age Adjustment Act. The bipartisan legislation will allow many more Americans living with disabilities to experience the benefits of ABLE accounts. The ABLE Age Adjustment Act raises the age of disability onset to give more Americans with disabilities the opportunity to use tax-advantaged savings accounts to help cover qualified disability expenses.

Under current legislation, ABLE accounts are only available to those who acquire their disability prior to their 26th birthday. The ABLE Age Adjustment Act would grow the pool of eligible individuals by raising the age of onset to 46 years old. Thousands of Americans living with disabilities and their families have experienced the benefits of ABLE programs, and, under this new bill, many more will be able to do the same.

ABLE accounts have transformed the way currently eligible individuals with disabilities can participate in the community by allowing them to maintain their federal means-tested benefits while saving in an ABLE account. Before the 2014 ABLE Act was passed, Americans with disabilities lost their federal Supplemental Security Income benefits if they had more than $2,000 in their name, thereby discouraging people with disabilities from working, saving money and building greater financial independence and self-reliance.

Withdrawals from ABLE accounts are tax-free, so long as the funds are used for qualified disability expenses. Qualified expenses include things such as education and training, job training and support, health and wellness, legal and financial services, and funeral and burial expenses.

Since the original ABLE Act’s passage nearly five years ago, 41 states and the District of Columbia have launched ABLE programs. Moreover, research shows that the size of individual ABLE accounts has grown by almost 45 percent in the past two years. Participation at both the state and individual levels reveals steadfast support and need for this program.

Casey, Moran, Van Hollen and Roberts’ commendable efforts to pass the ABLE Age Adjustment Act will help improve quality of life and increase financial independence for more individuals with disabilities. The new bill has the potential to strengthen a program that already has a proven track record of enhancing the lives of thousands of Americans. By voting to pass the ABLE Age Adjustment Act, Congress has the opportunity to help ease the financial burdens of, and increase the financial security for, our most vulnerable population.

 

Michael Frerichs is the Illinois State Treasurer and he is also the chairman of the National Association of State Treasurer’s ABLE Committee.

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