October 22, 2018
The Honorable Bob Casey
United States Senate
393 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Casey:
I write on behalf of the National Council on Disability, a non-partisan federal agency that advises the President and Congress on disability policy issues, to commend you for the introduction of the ABLE Age Adjustment Act, and to offer the opinion of the Council that this law would strengthen the existing ABLE Act’s intent by offering even more people with disabilities the opportunity to save money without imperiling eligibility to critical federal benefits and services. Further, we believe that expanding the potential pool of beneficiaries will help further strengthen the existing state ABLE programs through additional investments that will help ensure viable and effective state programs for years to come.
In our forty-year history, NCD has offered many recommendations that we were pleased to see become law, but we’ve also encouraged Congress to revisit those laws occasionally to improve them and to ensure that they are working to meet the needs of people with disabilities. For example, NCD introduced the first draft of what became the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1986 and continued to focus on this seminal civil rights law and examine how the law was working and impacting the lives of people with disabilities. Unfortunately, we found that a series of Supreme Court decisions had weakened the law and rendered it ineffective in preventing employment discrimination and offering victims of employment discrimination effective redress. Consequently, in 2004, we recommended legislation that would strengthen the ADA and make it the powerful tool that Congress intended.
Similarly, NCD called for changes to the asset restrictions in SSI, Medicaid and other means-tested programs that prevented people with disabilities from accumulating wealth through the establishment of protected accounts and other savings programs. We praised the introduction of the ABLE Act as an, “…important step towards creating asset-building opportunities for people with disabilities and their families that can improve the quality of their lives…” and encouraged Congress to consider and pass this important legislation even though the legislation had been restricted to individuals whose disability manifested before age 26. We now call on Congress to take up the S. 817, the “ABLE Age Adjustment Act,” to increase the number of people who can benefit from these savings accounts by including individuals whose disabilities manifests any time before age 46. This will vastly increase the number of people who can benefit from ABLE and move toward financial independence. Additionally, a larger ABLE-eligible population will help states that have not seen sufficient numbers of enrollees to date make the program even more sustainable.
We recognize S. 817 as an important step in the right direction, but it is only a step. NCD was asked by the House Appropriations Committee to serve as an interagency coordinator within the Federal Government to ensure that agencies are providing consistent and helpful guidance on ABLE accounts, and also to conduct information sessions on ABLE account with stakeholders when we visit communities across the country for our regular quarterly meetings. NCD has taken up this charge and recently convened a group that included agency representatives from SSA, CMS, DOL, IRS, ED, and HHS, as well as representatives from national disability organizations whose members are likely ABLE account eligible. The meeting was a great beginning to NCD’s work in this area, which we expect to continue throughout the fiscal year.
ABLE is an important way for people with disabilities and their families to invest in their long-term goals and help stabilize their futures. Although it protects assets rather than earned income, ABLE can also work in conjunction with other programs that are available to recipients of SSI, SSDI and Medicaid that encourage people who are eligible for these programs to work. ABLE has exciting potential to increase the ability of people with disabilities to work and earn and save money, which may enable people with disabilities to become self-sufficient and break out of the cycle of poverty that ensnares so many people with disabilities.
NCD is glad to be a part of ensuring that the law lives up to its potential, and we strongly believe that the ABLE Age Adjustment Act will help achieve that goal.