ABLE Act: From a Kitchen-Table Idea to the Law of the Land

John Boehner

Later today, Reps. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) will take part in an event at the White House to celebrate the ABLE Act, which will allow millions of Americans with disabilities to start savings accounts of their own.

The law’s original champion and author, Crenshaw says he’s proud to have turned this kitchen-table idea – the biggest step forward in years for people with disabilities – into the law of the land.  Here’s how he described the journey in a recent Weekly Republican Address:

“I first filed this legislation in 2006.  That was eight long years ago, but because of the hard work, dedication, and teamwork of an awful lot of people, we were able to bring that legislation to the floor and pass it with an overwhelming majority.”

The Christian Science Monitor took its own look back and found that “the ABLE Act succeeded because of humility, hard work, and an honest desire to find a solution”:

That process began with Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R) of Florida. … He told colleagues that a $2,000 limit in existing law amounted to ‘forced impoverishment’ for people with disabilities.  ‘You’re forced to live in impoverishment or forfeit government help,’ he argued.

Representative [Cathy] McMorris Rodgers’s story was a powerful one, putting a close, personal face on the issue for many legislators.  ‘Here you are, a new parent who is ready to give your all to this child, yet I was being told: Don’t put any assets in his name because it may disqualify him from important services he may need later in his life,’ she says. ‘I cringed. That’s the wrong message to be sending parents.’

In his last months … [Chairman Dave] Camp took up the ABLE Act. It was supporters’ first real opening.  … ‘People are talking about how this Congress is so unproductive and polarized, yet we were able to get this amazing thing through,’ says [Rick] Hodges, the parent activist who started the ball rolling.”

Already, the ABLE Act is being touted around the country as the states prepare to implement it:

  • Winston Salem Journal: “Editorial: ABLE Act will help disabled children.  … The ABLE Act enables families with disabled children to save for their child’s long-term disability expenses through a tax-exempt investment plan… About 5.8 million Americans are projected to be eligible for the benefits.
  • The Boston Globe: “A disabilities act, long in planning, is finally law.  Until now, people with disabilities couldn’t do what the rest of us can — set aside money, safe from the IRS, for certain purposes. Before this law, money saved outside a trust account disqualified those with disabilities from Medicaid-based benefits and Social Security. … This was a rare case, said Crenshaw, of ‘Democrats and Republicans, the House and Senate, all coming together.’”
  • Stamford Advocate: “Enabling a new savings option.  As the case with college 529 plans that are often cited as a model for ABLE, the new savings accounts would carry tax-favored status.  ‘Based on the literature and recommendations of the ABLE Act, it will make a profound difference for the autism community,’ Dr. Roslyn Burton-Robertson, executive director of Easter Seals Coastal Fairfield County’s Stamford office, said in an email.”

The ABLE Act is good law, but our work doesn’t end here: Republicans are currently working on legislation to protect and expand 529 savings plans for middle-class families.

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