(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. This was one of the big ones. After an unprecedented bipartisan show of support by the US Congress, President Barack Obama has signed the ABLE Act into law.
With his signature, the president has paved the way for people with different abilities to open tax-free savings accounts where they can amass more than $2,000 without losing government benefits. The President signed the bill prior to leaving for his Christmas vacation, shortly after the US Senate passed the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act (H.R. 647/S. 313) with 78 cosponsors on December 23. The bill had sailed through the House earlier in the month, in a huge show of bipartisan support with a 404-17 vote.
The new law is aimed at helping parents provide for the future of their children with 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 will benefit from the ABLE Law, including hundreds served in the Savannah area by the Lowcountry Down Syndrome Society (LDSS).
“Chip worked tirelessly on this legislation that will now 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 new law will 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 different ability expenses that might include education, housing, transportation, obtaining and maintaining employment, health and wellness, and other personal support expenses. The new “ABLE” accounts will 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 affect their government benefits, but it also limited their ability to earn full-time wages.”
Previously, people with different abilities could not qualify for Medicaid and Social Security disability benefits if they had more than $2,000 in assets or earned more than about $680 per month.
“The ABLE Law 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 will not take the place of other benefits that the child may be eligible for, including SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and Medicaid.”
No other bill that has come before the 113th Congress has equaled or surpassed the ABLE Act’s bipartisan and bicameral support. Its passage into law may be 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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