Congress Must Pass the ABLE Act | Commentary

Posted December 10, 2014 at 5:05pm

With the lame-duck session set to wrap-up this week, the clock is ticking for Congress to rise above Washington gridlock and give millions of Americans with disabilities a chance for a better financial future.

Members in the House already did their job last week, voting to pass the Achieving a Better Life Experience or ABLE Act with wide, bipartisan support. For dedicated advocates, the passage was an encouraging achievement for their tireless effort over the past eight years to correct decades-long inequality and burden on people with disabilities and their families. It is now time for the Senate to also vote to pass this common-sense legislation.

The ABLE Act would allow individuals with disabilities to save towards their future without giving up access to much-needed government support. The average cost for families raising a child with a significant disability is staggering. Families face often-debilitating costs for transportation, assistive technology, continuing education, medical care and housing. Many people with disabilities fear that earning or saving too much money could cause them to lose access to supports that they need to live independently in the community. Currently, people with disabilities cannot save more than $2,000 in assets before jeopardizing their Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income benefits. People with disabilities often cannot save for emergencies and unanticipated challenges.

While many American families plan for the future by opening tax-advantaged 529 savings accounts to set aside funds for future college costs, families with children with disabilities lose federal benefits if they opt to make the same choice. The act would establish tax-free so-called ABLE accounts — a flexible savings tool similar to what other Americans have through college savings accounts, health savings accounts, and individual retirement accounts. People with disabilities would be able to save up to $14,000 annually at any financial institution. Families would also be able to use the account to cover medical expenses not covered by private insurance or Medicaid.

Studies show Americans with disabilities face significant barriers to joining and remaining in the middle class. The ABLE Act will go a long way in removing barriers and fostering the kind of independence and self-determination that should be afforded to all. The ABLE Act is not an entitlement or government handout that entangles and creates roadblocks for legislators; rather, the bill allows individuals with disabilities a slice of the American dream. Moreover, the ABLE Act will not cost taxpayers.

The ABLE Act is finally something Congress can and should rally around. The legislation has the distinction of being the most popular bill in Congress with about 85 percent of Congressional members cosponsoring the bill. Rightly so, the ABLE Act has been embraced by the disability community, which has built a far-reaching coalition around the legislation.

The legislation is an important and long overdue milestone for individuals with disabilities and their loved ones. Passing the ABLE Act would show to the American people that Congress can in fact work together. Passing the ABLE Act means those living with disabilities have a fighting chance free of dependency and filled with opportunities.

Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., has represented Mississippi’s 3rd Congressional District since 2009. He sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Committee on House Administration.