Congress should build upon the ABLE Act, giving more Americans with disabilities access to financial tools

Congress should build upon the ABLE Act, giving more Americans with disabilities access to financial tools

The Senate Special Committee on Aging recently announced that they would be holding a hearing to discuss the growing population of aging caregivers for individuals with disabilities. As the committee considers ways to protect our nation’s most vulnerable population, it is important to highlight the impact of a program that we know is already making a huge difference for families of individuals with disabilities: The Achieving a Better Life Experience Act.

Passed in 2014, this bipartisan bill was designed to give eligible individuals with disabilities and their families greater capacity to cover the cost of expenses such as medical and dental care, education, housing and transportation. It is clear that the bill has accomplished this goal.

ABLE programs have empowered Americans with disabilities in many ways, notably by providing access to tax-free savings accounts to ease financial concerns. The funds in these accounts can be used for disability-related expenses that assist the beneficiary in affording the additional costs that come with having a disability and providing for greater independence and quality of life.

The impact of such a program is significant and immediate. The parents of children with disabilities who utilize the program, for example, now have the peace of mind that their child has an extra layer of protection should the parent no longer be able to care for them.

Before the ABLE Act, Americans with disabilities receiving federal means-tested SSI benefits could not have more than $2,000 in savings accounts or they would lose their monthly SSI benefit. This prevented many individuals from achieving financial independence because higher savings threatened crucial federal benefits, often trapping them in a cycle of poverty. For example, a promotion at work and raise in salary could lead to the loss of one’s SSI benefits. ABLE gives qualified individuals the opportunity to save up to $100,000 in a tax-advantaged account, thereby allowing workforce participation and cementing a more secure future.

Thousands of individuals with disabilities and their loved ones have recognized the benefits of ABLE programs and opened more than 20,000 ABLE accounts nationwide. Together, participants have saved almost $100 million in tax-advantaged funds. The early data from this fiscal quarter indicates an increase of 15 to 20 percent in both the number of accounts and assets under management. Those who were previously prevented from having more than $2,000 to their name are now able to use money from this account to pay for qualified expenses, including transportation, services, education and other costs associated with a living with a disability.

ABLE Programs, which have now been launched in 39 states around the country, are perfect examples of what can happen when leading policymakers come together with solutions for vulnerable populations. We hope members will follow the lead of Senator Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrOvernight Defense: Pompeo creates 'action group' for Iran policy | Trump escalates intel feud | Report pegs military parade cost at M Hillicon Valley: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sits down with The Hill | Drama over naming DHS cyber office | Fallout over revoking Brennan's security clearance | Google workers protest censored search engine for China Trump escalates feud with intelligence officials MORE (R-NC), Senate Aging Committee Ranking Member Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyTop Koch official fires back at critics: We are not an 'appendage' of the GOP Dem senator: Media should stop covering Trump rallies like they're breaking news The Hill's Morning Report: Trump tries to rescue Ohio House seat as GOP midterm fears grow MORE (D-PA), and many other leaders in Congress, in recognizing the life-changing benefits that ABLE programs provide and ask that they continue to support ABLE as it strengthens and expands.

These programs have fundamentally improved the well-being of the families of people with disabilities. As more Americans utilize ABLE accounts, we should consider ways to strengthen and widen the scope of these programs.

Congress should build upon the robust and successful foundation laid by the ABLE Act, by giving more Americans with disabilities access to this valuable financial tool and providing account holders with more flexibility in how they manage their accounts. It is our hope that the Senate committee will consider the support that ABLE programs have provided for Americans with disabilities and the caregivers who sacrifice for their loved ones every day.

In its first three years, ABLE has enriched the lives of thousands of deserving Americans. Beginning with this hearing, the Senate Special Committee now has a chance to support this program even further – and, by doing so, ensure that it will enrich many more lives for decades to come.

Michael Frerichs, Treasurer of Illinois, serves as Co-Chair of the ABLE Committee at the National Association of State Treasurers.