Wednesday, December 17, 2014

ABLE Act passes the Senate, will become law

ABLE Act passes the Senate, will become law

Coons-cosponsored bill will allow Americans with disabilities to create tax-free savings accounts and gain more financial independence

Press Release from Senator Coons:
WASHINGTON – The Senate passed the bipartisan Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act on Tuesday night, making it easier for Americans with disabilities to save for their long-term care. U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) was an original cosponsor of the bill, which was introduced by Senators Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.). The legislation, which has been described as, “the broadest legislation to help the disabled in nearly a quarter-century,” would allow families with children who have disabilities to open up 529-style tax-free savings accounts for them to build wealth and financial independence.

“Americans with disabilities deserve every opportunity to build a brighter future and the financial stability to ensure independence and self-determination,” Senator Coons said. “For too long, families of children with disabilities have faced the choice between federal benefits to help care for their child and saving for their child’s future. When the President signs the ABLE Act into law, families will be able to ensure their children will grow up with the means to provide for themselves while also meeting their current needs. They will no longer need to choose between their family’s present and their child’s future. The fight for the ABLE Act is one I’ve been proud to be a part of. I know many families in Delaware who will benefit from this law, and am proud to have played a small role in something that can make a huge difference in their lives.”

Rick and Amy Kosmalski of Bear, Delaware, are the parents of eight-year-old Kayla, who has Down Syndrome. Rick is also a National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) board member and the President of the 321foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower all individuals with Down Syndrome, their families, and friends in the community through advocacy, education, and support. Senator Coons has met with Rick, Amy, and Kayla several times over the last few years.

“Today is the day our family has been hoping for and working towards for nearly eight years, along with numerous other advocates, parents, and organizations,” Rick Kosmalski said. “Until now, my daughter, Kayla, has not had the right to save for her future or her needs. We often take for granted our rights as citizens and don't realize how something as small as being able to save your own money can make a huge impact in your life and independence. It is our hope that Kayla will pursue any dream that makes her happy in life. With the passing of the ABLE Act, that will now be possible.”

“The focus today should be on abilities, not disabilities,” Mr. Kosmalski said. “The passing of the ABLE Act will further allow individuals with special needs to prove to the world that they are more alike than different.

“Kayla is eight years old and in the third grade at Cedar Lane Elementary School. She loves music (especially Taylor Swift), dancing, swimming, shopping, and just being a typical eight-year-old kid.  Knowing that Kayla can save any money she receives for Christmas this year in an ABLE account is the greatest Christmas gift our family could have wished for.”

The ABLE Act passed as part of a larger tax credit extension bill, which the Senate passed on a bipartisan 76-16 vote. The ABLE Act would amend Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Service Code to allow use of tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities. The bill, first introduced in 2006, would ease financial strains faced by individuals with disabilities by making tax-free savings accounts available to cover qualified expenses such as education, housing, medical, and transportation. The bill would supplement, but not supplant, benefits provided through private insurance, the Medicaid program, the Social Security Income (SSI) program, the beneficiary’s employment, and other sources.

The ABLE Act was endorsed by a broad coalition of both national and state organizations, including the Delaware State Council for Persons with Disabilities, Down Syndrome Association of Delaware, Autism Speaks, The Arc, the 321foundation, American Association of People with Disabilities, Easter Seals, National Center for Learning Disabilities, National Down Syndrome Society, and the Special Olympics.

The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act Passed in Senate Tuesday

The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act Passed in Senate 
After Eight Years, Congress' Most Bipartisan Bill Passes Set for a Presidential Signing

Washington, DC, December 17- Following overwhelming passage in the House of Representatives (404-17) on December 3rd, the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act (H.R. 647/S. 313) passed the US Senate as part of the Tax Extenders Package Tuesday night. The ABLE Act is the most bipartisan, bicameral bill before the 113th Congress. The President now has ten days to sign the bill for it to become law.

No other bill before the 113th Congress equals or surpasses the ABLE Act's bipartisan and bicameral support - 77 United States Senators, including Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and the bill's Senate Champions Bob Casey (D-PA) and Richard Burr (R-NC). In the House, 381 Representatives, including a dedicated set of House Champions - Congressman Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), House Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX).

"Passage of the ABLE Act is a major victory for those with disabilities and their families," Casey said. "This bill reminds us all that those with disabilities have a lot of ability. Soon those with disabilities and their families will be able to better save for their long-term care."  

"Some have called the ABLE Act the most significant piece of legislation affecting the disabled since passage of the American Disabilities Act nearly 25 years ago.  I got involved in this effort nearly 8 years ago with Senator Casey.  Families of severely disabled children came to us expressing the critical need for an easy way to save for their child's future expenses, especially since many Americans with Down syndrome and autism are now outliving their parents," said Senator Burr. "Most middle-class families don't have the money to spend on lawyers and financial planners to set up sophisticated trusts to make sure that their disabled child will be OK long after they are gone.  What's worse current federal law actually discourages parents from putting any assets in the name of their disabled child in fear of disqualifying them from federal programs down the road. It's utterly unacceptable that our current laws doom a child born with a disability to a lifetime of poverty and dependence.  This is especially unfortunate when a parent or other family member has the resources and the desire to save and plan for that child's future expenses but are advised by lawyers and planners not to.  The ABLE Act will take the first critical step in ending this injustice."

NDSS has been one of the leading advocacy organizations behind the ABLE Act for over eight years and four Congress. Last week, ABLE House Champions renamed the landmark legislation to honor NDSS' late Vice Chairman and chief ABLE Act architect Stephen Beck Jr., who passed away suddenly just days after the House passage. "The ABLE Act's initial concept grew out of an idea around Steve Beck's kitchen table, and now will be forever marked with his legacy," said NDSS Chairman Rob Taishoff.  

"The ABLE Act proves that people with disabilities and their families can make a difference. We fought long and hard to make the ABLE Act a reality for all people with Down syndrome and their families in this country," said Sara Weir, NDSS interim President. "This landmark legislation puts a stake in the ground that people with disabilities, for the first time ever, can work and save money for the future. For NDSS, this has been a civil right issue, and we can't wait for President Obama to sign this bill into law." 

Under current law, they cannot have more than $2,000 worth of assets before critical government support programs they need are cut off.  In the face of enormous medical, transportation, and education costs, that amount does not extend very far and certainly hinders independent living.

The National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), Autism Speaks and more than 100 other national organizations have endorsed the bill, which will ease the financial strain on families who have loved ones with disabilities.

About NDSS

The National Down Syndrome Society is a nonprofit organization representing the more than 400,000 Americans with Down syndrome. The mission of NDSS is to be the national advocate for the value, acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome. NDSS envisions a world in which all people with Down syndrome have the opportunity enhance their quality of life, realize their life aspirations, and become valued members of welcoming community. 

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