Now is the time for the ABLE Age Adjustment Act

  ·  The Hill   ·  Link to Article

Over the past eight years, states have worked diligently to launch and administer Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) savings programs, fulfilling Congress’ vision of providing a savings tool to increase independence and quality of life for individuals living with disabilities. We and other members of the National Association of State Treasurers (NAST) overwhelmingly support the ABLE Age Adjustment Act, a bill that allows significantly more Americans with disabilities to access this vital tool to save for their future. The notably bipartisan legislation is championed by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), as well as Reps. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) and Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-Wash.). Given the broad support for the ABLE Age Adjustment Act, it was included in the Enhancing American Retirement Now (EARN) Act, which advanced with unanimous support by the Senate Finance Committee in June, but there is still more to do to ensure that the Act becomes law.

Since the passage of the ABLE Act in 2014, over 126,000 ABLE accounts have been opened nationwide and more than $1 billion has been invested in these accounts. Tax-favored ABLE accounts enable individuals with disabilities to save for disability-related expenses without jeopardizing their eligibility for critical means-tested benefits like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid, which otherwise starts to diminish when the individual reports more than $2,000 of assets.

This October, we commemorated National Disability Employment Awareness Month. In proclaiming the month-long commemoration, President Biden encouraged all to “celebrate the essential contributions to our workplaces, economy, and Nation made by disabled Americans and recommit to promoting equal opportunity for all people.” In the presidential proclamation recognizing the month, President Biden highlighted the unfortunate fact that that those with disabilities are three times less likely to be employed and often work for subminimum wage. There is little incentive to take on full-time work or accept promotions because of the potential to exceed the asset limit associated with their vital disability benefits. However, because ABLE savings accounts do not impact eligibility for means-tested benefits they empower workers with disabilities to advance their careers and build an independent future without having to voluntarily impoverish themselves every month to maintain their benefits eligibility. This is especially critical to help enable independence and workforce readiness for Americans with disabilities, particularly after decades of noted underemployment when compared to other Americans in the workforce.

Unfortunately, access to state-sponsored ABLE programs is currently prohibited by federal law for a significant segment of Americans who are living day in and day out with the increased costs of having a severe disability. The original ABLE Act garnered more than 300 co-sponsors in the House. However, before the bill was passed it was amended to change the eligibility threshold for ABLE account owners. While ABLE accounts have always required that the account owner be an individual with a disability, the amendment restricted ABLE eligibility to those who incurred their disability before age 26. Though this amendment did not impact eligibility for many Americans living with a disability from birth, it effectively barred millions of Americans that incur their disabilities later in life from having an ABLE account.

Speaking before the Senate Special Committee on Aging in March, Iowa resident Shelly Jaspering shared details about her career background as well as an accident which left her permanently disabled as a quadriplegic when she was 28 years old. After months of recovery, Jaspering returned to work for her previous employer on a part-time basis. Now 44, she expressed a lack of confidence in her financial future, including concerns about having too much employment income to maintain her Medicaid waiver, but not enough saved up for major purchases like repairs to her wheelchair-accessible van. According to her testimony, if Jaspering had access to an ABLE savings account, she “wouldn’t have to live in fear. The $2,000 asset limit to keep [her] disability benefits means that [she is] stuck financially and will always live on the edge.”

To help address this barrier to access, the ABLE Age Adjustment Act would lift the threshold age of disability onset from 26 to 46 years old, allowing over 6 million more Americans with disabilities — including over 1 million military servicemembers and veterans — to open ABLE savings accounts and increase their independence, financial wellbeing, and quality of life.

Why the Department of Defense’s schools are outperforming the competitionRewiring US trade policy to address new global realities

Expanding the age eligibility threshold not only helps more Americans with disabilities save for crucial disability-related expenses but also helps ensure the stability and scalability of ABLE programs nationwide. States that administer ABLE programs view expanded eligibility as a financial imperative for sustaining their programs. While 46 states and the District of Columbia offer ABLE programs, data collected by NAST shows slower-than-anticipated growth in the number of ABLE accounts opened nationwide, jeopardizing long-term program sustainability and making it difficult for programs to gain scale and lower account fees. Expanding account eligibility will ensure these life-changing programs remain viable at the state level while still being affordable, low-fee accounts for individuals living with disabilities.

On the heels of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we remember that Jaspering and 6 million other Americans have the potential, the yearning, and the right to pursue and build independent lives. The ABLE Age Adjustment Act is a crucial enhancement that would solidify the goal of the original ABLE Act — to enable Americans with disabilities to save for their future. We encourage everyone to contact their representatives in Congress to encourage them to support this important piece of legislation.

Fiona Ma is California’s 34th state Treasurer. She is the first woman of color and the first woman Certified Public Accountant (CPA) elected to the position. Treasurer Ma serves as the Chair of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Committee of the National Association of State Treasurers (NAST). Scott Fitzpatrick was sworn in as Missouri’s 47th Treasurer on Jan. 14, 2019. He was elected to a full-term on Nov. 3, 2020. Treasurer Fitzpatrick serves as the Vice- Chair of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Committee of the National Association of State Treasurers (NAST).