‘ABLE act’ celebrated across state

Federal legislation that was eight years in the making is being celebrated across Minnesota and the rest of the United States. The long-awaited Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama before he left for Christmas vacation. This new law allows people with disabilities to open tax-free savings accounts to cover specific life expenses.

For many years people with disabilities had to spend down most assets to qualify for Medicaid-based benefits and Social Security. Before the act, families could not receive benefits if they had saved more than $2,000 in cash savings. The ABLE Act allows families to save up to $100,000. Money can be taken out of the account as needed, without additional tax penalties.

Money could be used for expenses including housing, education, employment supports and other costs not covered by insurance. The act has its origins in the efforts of a father in Virginia who wanted to save money for his daughter, who has Down syndrome.

Specific rules must be written by the Internal Revenue Service, with amendments by state. It’s hoped that ABLE Accounts can be made available later this year. To be eligible for an ABLE Account, individuals must have a severe disability with an age of onset below 26.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar traveled the state to celebrate the law’s passage, meeting with disability advocacy and service organization and people with disabilities in Plymouth and Duluth. Klobuchar worked to get the act passed. Klobuchar visited the Hammer Residences Kentucky Home in Plymouth to meet and be thanked by families for her work supporting the act. She called it “one of the best laws that happened all year.” She praised the act’s passage not just for its needed help for people with disabilities but for its strong bipartisan support.

“So many times when people are throwing daggers in Washington and throwing fights, you forget why you’re there and who you’re supposed to be helping,” Klobuchar said at one of the press conferences. “By passing a bill like that, that was actually significant and had to be paid for; I think it also shows continuing support.” Klobuchar noted that while the law didn’t attract the attention as other, more contentious legislation, the word needs to get out on ABLE. It passed 76-16 in the Senate as part of larger tax credit extension bill. It passed 404-17 in the House.

Hammer, Inc. and The Arc Minnesota representatives were among the advocacy groups on hand in Plymouth to meet with Klobuchar, along with many affected family members. At the Plymouth press conference, Hammer Residences CEO John Estrem spoke about the importance of ABLE. “It’s seeing the person first,” he said. “Seeing the person before the disability, and understanding that people with disabilities can live lives, meaningful lives, in the community.”

A similar scene played out in Duluth. Pete Barnett described what happened with his family. “Two years ago I received a letter from S.S.I. telling me that I was going to lose my benefits because our combined income was too high. But we’re barely making enough money to live on and could not save any money. Because of this we had to get legally divorced in order to save my benefits,” said Barnett.

It’s expected that roughly 10 percent of the 58 million people with disabilities in the United States will take advantage of the new law.

-To see Klobuchar’s Plymouth press conference, go here.