Before adjourning for recess, the Senate Finance Committee advanced the ABLE to Work Act, S. 2702, which expands on the goals of the landmark Stephen Beck Jr. Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, or better known as the ABLE Act. The ABLE to Work Act will allow individuals with disabilities to save their paychecks in an ABLE account beyond the current annual ABLE contribution.
The original ABLE statue is hailed as the most significant disability legislation that Congress has passed since the Americans with Disabilities Act 26 years ago. The ABLE Act amended Section 529 of the tax code to create tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities. The amendment also eases financial strains faced by individuals with disabilities by making tax-free savings accounts available to cover qualified expenses such as education, housing and transportation while remaining on benefits like Medicaid and Social Security.
For the National Down Syndrome Society, the leading human rights organization that advocates for people with Down syndrome and their families, the ABLE to Work Act is our most significant legislative priority for this Congress and we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate this October, which happens to be both Down Syndrome Awareness Month and National Disability Employment Month.
The ABLE to Work Act would allow a working age individual with a disability to save more money in an ABLE account—up to the federal poverty level of $11,700—as well as allow ABLE beneficiaries to qualify for the existing saver’s credit when they also put in savings.
When President Obama signed the ABLE Act into law on Dec. 19, 2014, over 85 percent of the entire Congress co-sponsored this legislation, making it one of the most bipartisan advocacy efforts of all time. Since January 2015, 48 states have enacted state ABLE laws, and four states—Ohio, Nebraska, Tennessee and Florida—launched state ABLE programs this summer and more than 15 states will launch programs by the end of 2016. The U.S. Department of Treasury is also expected to publish final regulations by the end of the year. To date, there have been almost 2,000 ABLE accounts opened nationwide by individuals with disabilities in the United States.
For our organization, the ABLE to Work Act is part of our broader NDSS employment campaign, #DSWORKS™, which is encouraging Congress to help us breakdown systematic barriers to employment and is encouraging corporations and businesses to invest in hiring people with Down syndrome.
We’d like to commend our ABLE congressional champions, specifically Sens. Richard Burr, (R-N.C.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.), and Reps. Ander Crenshaw, (R-Fla.), Chris Van Hollen, (D-Md.), Cathy McMorris Rodgers, (R-Wash.), and Pete Sessions, (R-Texas), who are working hard to see that the ABLE to Work Act and other critical disability legislation are enacted by the end of this Congress.
NDSS, along with our congressional champions, know employing people with Down syndrome and other disabilities is not only the right thing to do but is good for business and the bottom line. Advancing the ABLE to Work Act improves the ABLE program by helping us build on the foundation of the ABLE Act. And most importantly, all of our collective efforts are breaking down barriers for people with Down syndrome and other disabilities to achieve the American Dream.
Note: Sara Hart Weir, MS, is the President of the National Down Syndrome Society based in Washington and New York and one of the Co-Founders of the ABLE Alliance for Financial Empowerment.