The ABLE Act: Promoting Inclusion and Independence

The financial strain on individuals with disabilities and their families today is not just a matter of dollars and cents; it's a matter of planning for tomorrow and the long-term future to ensure their independence and inclusion in their community.

Parents of children with disabilities want their kids to be able to access higher education, build a meaningful career, and save for the future so that they can live independently in their community of choice. Unfortunately, with essential government benefits at risk when an individual with a disability accumulates significant assets, long-term financial planning for services and supports that enable independent and community-based living is often not feasible.

To help remedy this situation so many families face, the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act (H.R. 647/S. 313) was introduced with bipartisan support in both the House of Representatives and Senate earlier this year. This bill would provide a tax-advantaged savings account of up to $100,000 for disability-related expenses to supplement the benefits received from sources such as private insurance, Medicaid and the Supplemental Security Income program.

Qualified expenses that an ABLE account would fund include education, housing, transportation, employment support, health prevention and wellness, assistive technology and personal support. In short, it would allow families to plan for their child with disabilities to have access to funds to pay rent, hire a tutor or get job-related training in the future.

Current law discourages people with disabilities and their families from saving for the future, as people with disabilities who have more than $2000 in assets are ineligible for many essential government benefits. This legislation would provide an opportunity to save assets for future care without jeopardizing those benefits.

Promoting independent living and community inclusion for people with disabilities is a central reflection of Jewish communal values. Our sages teach us, "Do not separate yourself from the community" (Pirkei Avot 2:5), and the tradition of bringing together Jews in the community from every background lives on in America today. Local Jewish Federations that help support families and individuals with disabilities understand the reality of the costs- both material and psychological - that the ABLE Act would help alleviate for these families.

As a financial tool through the federal tax code, the ABLE Act would actually save the government money in the long term by helping individuals with disabilities to remain in their communities, rather than in government-funded institutional settings.

Additionally, with safety net programs like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income continuously at risk of cuts in a difficult fiscal climate, individuals with disabilities and their families must have the ability to safely put away private funds to support their health, independence, and quality of life. The ABLE Act provides a way for them to do this.

This legislation has broad bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, with liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans among its lead sponsors. They understand that disability, as well as the goals of inclusion and independence, are not partisan issues. This is why the bills' sponsors are working to achieve as much support for this legislation as possible so that the ABLE Act will be considered as the Congress addresses comprehensive tax reform in the coming months.

That's where you come in; we need your help. Please contact your representative and senators and urge them to co-sponsor the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act (H.R. 647/S. 313). If signed into law, this act will be another step forward towards ensuring individuals with disabilities are able to maintaining their health, independence and quality of life as members of their community.

William Daroff is the Vice President for Public Policy and Director of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America. He is on twitter at @Daroff