Senate Passes ABLE Act

As previously reported, on December 3rd the House of Representatives passed the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act under Division B of H.R. 5771, commonly referred to as the “tax extenders” package.  On Tuesday December 16th the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 76 to 16 (with 8 Senators not voting).  The bill is expected to be signed into law by the President within ten days.

The ABLE Act will change the tax code to allow for tax advantaged savings accounts for qualified individuals with disabilities to save for certain expenses, such as education and transportation. Similar to existing “Section 529” education savings accounts, ABLE accounts will allow individuals and families to save for disability-related expenses to supplement, but not replace, benefits provided through Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, the beneficiary’s employment, and other sources. If properly managed, funds in an ABLE account will not jeopardize eligibility for critical federal benefits. With a full understanding of account features, individuals and families can use ABLE accounts as another tool in planning for the lifetime needs of an individual with long term disabilities.

This bill includes age limitations and a cap on contributions, added in July by the House Committee on Ways and Means to reduce the costs of the bill. The Arc will issue a fact sheet reflecting the details of the bill as it has changed through the legislative process. Further details will come through the regulatory process as implementation occurs. Read The Arc’s statement on Senate passage of the ABLE Act.

ABLE Act Passes House; Awaiting Senate Action

On December 3, the House of Representatives passed the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act (H.R. 647) as a free-standing bill by a vote of 404 to 17 (with 13 Members not voting). On the same day, the House also passed the ABLE Act as Division B of H.R. 5771, commonly referred to as the “tax extenders” package (Division A, the Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014, provides for tax extenders). A vote in the Senate on H.R. 5771, inclusive of the ABLE Act, is expected this week.

The ABLE Act aims to change the tax code to allow for tax advantaged savings accounts for individuals with disabilities for certain expenses, like education, housing, and transportation. Similar to existing “Section 529” education savings accounts, ABLE accounts would let individuals and families save for disability-related expenses to supplement, but not replace, benefits provided through Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, the beneficiary’s employment, and other sources. If properly managed, funds in the ABLE accounts would not jeopardize eligibility for critical federal benefits. With a full understanding of its features, individuals and families could use the ABLE accounts as another tool in planning for the lifetime needs of an individual with long term disabilities. The version of the bill that passed the House includes age limitations and a cap on contributions, added in July by the Committee on Ways and Means to reduce the costs of the bill. If the ABLE Act becomes law, The Arc will issue a fact sheet reflecting the details of the bill as it has changed through the legislative process. Further details must come through the regulatory process.

The Arc Mourns the Death of Stephen E. Beck, Jr.

The Arc mourns the death of Steve Beck on December 8, just days after House passage of the ABLE Act. Steve was a tireless advocate for people with disabilities and a founder and leader of the efforts behind the ABLE Act (see article above). As the parent of two young daughters, one with Down syndrome, Steve was an integral part of the leadership team on the bill for the last eight years. Steve was a natural collaborator and coalition builder and his work was critical in moving the bill forward, even while he held a full-time job in an unrelated field. Those who worked with Steve admired him and his steady commitment and positive outlook. We will miss him.

Possible House Vote on ABLE Act Announced

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), in announcing the House schedule for the week of December 1st, included “possible consideration” of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014 (H.R. 647) on the House floor this week. The ABLE Act would create tax-favored savings accounts for people with disabilities that would not count toward the $2,000 individual asset limits that apply to the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid programs. As previously reported, the House Ways and Means Committee marked up the ABLE Act in July, 2014 and, to address cost concerns, significantly narrowed the scope of the bill from the legislation that was introduced in 2013. Among the changes are a cap on contributions at $14,000 a year; requiring that individuals open accounts in their home state or with a state which contracts with their home state; limiting individuals to only one ABLE account; and limiting the availability of ABLE accounts to people who acquire the disability before age 26. The Committee’s report provides more details on these changes; the revised bill was reported back to the House in November. Following the Ways and Means Committee July mark up, in August the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) indicated that a person earning over the SSI substantial gainful activity (SGA) level would not be eligible for an ABLE account. Since then, Senate and House leaders have worked to fix the language to ensure that such earners would be eligible. The final language of the bill for possible consideration on the House floor this week, including the SGA language and provisions to pay for the legislation, is not yet available.

Senators Commit to Passing ABLE Act

On September 19, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR), Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), and Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) released a joint statement updating the public on the Achieving a Better Life Experience (S.313 and H.R.647) ABLE Act status.  They indicated that the Senate has generated momentum and positive progress on passage of the bill.  The four Senators announced that as a result of bi-partisan collaboration, a policy agreement has been reached that will be the foundation for passing this legislation and obtaining Presidential signature in the lame duck Congressional session, which begins November 12, 2014.  Although no plan has been developed yet to pay for the $2.1 billion cost over 10 years, legislators are optimistic that agreement can be reached. The ABLE Act legislation, to allow people with disabilities to open tax-advantaged savings accounts, has been in development for eight years.

Achieving a Better Life Experience Act Act Clears House Ways and Means Committee

The House Ways and Means Committee marked up the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE) last week.  The bill has significant bi-partisan support in the House and Senate and the lead sponsors are hopeful it can clear Congress in the early fall.  The ABLE Act would create tax-favored savings accounts for people with disabilities that would not count toward the $2,000 individual asset limits that apply to the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid programs.  To address cost concerns, the scope of the bill was significantly narrowed from the legislation that was introduced in 2013.  Among the changes are a cap on contributions at $14,000 a year; requiring that individuals open accounts in their home state or with a state which contracts with their home state; limiting individuals to only one ABLE account; and limiting the availability of ABLE accounts to people who acquire the disability before age 26.  The Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) estimated the new bill to cost about $2 billion over 10 years and a new estimate by the Congressional Budget Office is expected soon.  During the mark-up, Chairman Camp (R-MI) and Ranking Member Levin (D-MI) discussed their commitment to work over the August recess to find “pay-fors” acceptable to both sides in order to allow the bill to move quickly following Labor Day.  For more information please see the materials provided by the JCT.

Senate Holds Hearing on the ABLE Act

Last week, the Subcommittee on Taxation and IRS Oversight held a hearing, “Saving for an Uncertain Future: How the ABLE Act can Help People with Disabilities and their Families” on the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE Act) . The ABLE Act would create tax-free savings accounts for people with disabilities that would not count toward the $2,000 individual asset limits that apply to the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid programs.

Reflecting on the need for an update in current tax-code policies, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-WA),whose son Cole has Down syndrome, offered this statement as a part of her testimony,”Our outdated laws encourage women and men with disabilities to resign themselves to a life of dependence by spending down their assets rather than saving them for future expenses.”

Other witnesses included Mr. Robert D’Amelio, volunteer advocate for the North Carolina chapter of Autism Speaks; Chase Alston Phillips, a financial advisor from northern Virginia; and Sara Wolf, self-advocate with Down Syndrome and board member of the National Down Syndrome Society.

Introduced in February 2013, the Senate version, S. 213, sponsored by Sen. Robert Casey (D-PA), has 74 co-sponsors; the House version, HR.647, sponsored by Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), has 371 co-sponsors.   Visit the Committee website to view video of the hearing and written testimony.

 

 

ABLE Act Introduced in the 113th Congress

Bipartisan, bicameral legislation to allow for tax advantaged savings accounts for individuals with disabilities was introduced by Senators Robert Casey, Jr., (D-PA) and Richard Burr (R-NC) in the Senate, and Representatives Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), and Pete Sessions (R-TX) in the House of Representatives. The Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2013 (ABLE Act; S. 313, H.R. 647) would create ABLE savings accounts that allow people with disabilities to save for certain expenses, like education, housing, and transportation. ABLE accounts would be disregarded when determining eligibility for Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs, and other means-tested programs. The Arc strongly supports this legislation.

The legislation has 59 original House cosponsors and 16 original Senate cosponsors.

The Arc’s Joyce Lipman Speaks at Press Conference Supporting the ABLE Act

Last week, Joyce Lipman, former member of The Arc’s Board of Directors, joined Members of Congress and other disability rights advocates on Capitol Hill to support the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act during a press conference. Joyce brought her daughter Elise with her to the event and shared with the audience how the ABLE Act would help Elise lead a better life by providing her financial security. The bill would create a new planning tool for families that would allow individuals to save funds in new ABLE accounts without impacting their eligibility for means-tested federal programs like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid.

Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), one of the lead co-sponsors of the bill, acknowledged Joyce and Elise, his constituents, as powerful advocates and voiced his support for the ABLE Act and his hope that the bill would pass before Congress adjourns. The ABLE Act has broad bipartisan support, with more than 230 House sponsors and 40 in the Senate.