THE BLOG
12/10/2014 03:41 pm ET Updated Feb 09, 2015

Let's Pass the ABLE Act

mbell via Getty Images

Co-authored by Senator Richard Burr (R-NC)

Every parent wants their child to have a shot at the American Dream. For the parents of a child affected by a severe disability such as Down Syndrome or autism, that hope for a secure future is no less powerful.

Thanks to today's medical advances, many children with severe disabilities are outliving their parents. Yet, these parents struggle to save and plan for their child's long-term financial future, or are simply advised not to save at all. These parents face a lifetime of extraordinary expenses for their child, combined with policies that discourage them, even if they do have the resources, from saving for their child's future needs.

This week we are set to forever alter this dynamic. With the passage of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, Congress will provide these families with a much-needed savings tool.

Currently, the tax code provides a number of incentives for Americans to save for important life events, such as retirement or college, through tax-advantaged savings accounts. However, those with disabilities and their families are not afforded the same opportunity. In fact, many with disabilities cannot save money to cover costs related to their disability without becoming ineligible for programs, like Social Security Insurance or Medicaid, that provide a necessary lifeline. As a result, parents are left in the tragic position of impoverishing their disabled child in order to qualify for benefits rather than saving money to help plan for their future.

Take the experience of Sara Wolff, a Pennsylvanian living with Down syndrome. Throughout her life, Sara's family had to work to make sure she never had assets in her name. Today, Sara is a 31-year-old woman who works two jobs but has to carefully plan to ensure that she never amasses more than $2,000 in a savings account or she will lose critical benefits. Consigning children who have severe disabilities to a lifetime of poverty is unacceptable. Congress should work to level the playing field for these families, allowing them to save their own money to pay for their future costs.

The ABLE Act offers a simple solution by creating tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities. Specifically, it would build on the popular Section 529 college savings account program to allow families of the disabled to similarly save tax-free for qualified disability expenses without losing eligibility for other benefits.

The ABLE Act has garnered the support of over 450 members of Congress. No other bill in Congress has this level of bipartisan, bicameral support. This feat is a reflection of the incredible work and leadership of many people, including a grassroots push from disability advocates such as the National Down Syndrome Society and Autism Speaks. It is also a testament to the importance of what the ABLE Act does -- empower families and individuals with an equitable savings tool.

Following a huge bipartisan vote out of the House of Representatives, this week the Senate is set to consider the ABLE Act. This is a bill whose time has come. Let's give these parents the peace of mind that their child does in fact have a shot at the American Dream. Let's pass the ABLE Act.