(SAVANNAH, GA) For people with different abilities, it’s often a series of small victories combined with big ones that can make the difference of a lifetime. Last week, Congress acted, in a huge show of bipartisan support with a 404-17 vote, to enable a giant step forward for children with different abilities, by passing the ABLE Act. The Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE) is aimed at helping parents provide for the future of their children who have different abilities without worrying about penalties or other obstacles.
Cincinnati lobbyist, Chip Gerhardt, who has a 17-year-old daughter with Down syndrome, championed the legislation. Anne Gerhardt is just one of millions of Americans who could benefit from the ABLE Act, including hundreds served in the Savannah area by the Lowcountry Down Syndrome Society (LDSS).
“Chip has worked tirelessly on this legislation that, if enacted, will allow us to more effectively approach our community’s vision for people with different abilities,” said Brian Hussey, LDSS vice president. “It will also allow adults with different abilities to work more full-time jobs, earn more money and contribute more to their ability to live more independently.”
The measure would permit people with different abilities, including the families of children with different abilities, to set up tax-free savings accounts, similar to 529 college savings accounts, to pay for qualified disability expenses that might include education, housing, transportation, obtaining and maintaining employment, health and wellness, and other personal support expenses. These “ABLE” accounts would let account holders build up a financial cushion without jeopardizing their eligibility for Medicaid and Social Security benefits.
“Before this, the only avenues were complicated, expensive special needs trusts,” explained Hussey. “Not only was it difficult for people with different abilities to accumulate assets because of how it would effect their government benefits, but it also limited their ability to earn full-time wages.”
Under current law, people with different abilities cannot have more than $2,000 in assets and cannot earn more than about $680 per month, in order to qualify for Medicaid and Social Security disability benefits.
“If passed, the ABLE Act will help all of us create accounts where our children can save and family members can contribute to help provide a nest-egg for the future,” added Hussey. “Another bonus is that the savings accounts would not take the place of other benefits that the child may be eligible for, including SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and Medicaid.”
The bill could come up for a vote in the Senate as early as this week. If passed, it may signal a giant step forward in helping ease Washington gridlock, not to mention a big one for millions of Americans with different abilities, including many right here in the Savannah area.
ABOUT THE LOWCOUNTRY DOWN SYNDROME SOCIETY
The Lowcountry Down Syndrome Society (LDSS) is a non-profit support group to benefit people with Down Syndrome and their families through local leadership in support, outreach, education and advocacy. Meetings are held every 4th Tuesday of the month, typically with a guest speaker and social time for families to meet and interact with one another. We encourage people to bring their children. We are an affiliate of the National Down Syndrome Society. For more information, visit http://www.ldssga.org/
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