Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Monday March 18th, 2013, 4:59pm

Duckworth, Lipinski Back Bill To Help Families Cope With Disability-Related Expenses

U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D, IL-8) announced her co-sponsorship of the bipartisan Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act today, which would allow individuals with disabilities to have tax-deferred savings accounts in order to fund health care, housing and other essential expenses.

The ABLE Act, introduced in the Senate, S. 313, and House, H.R. 647, in February, aims to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to create the tax-free accounts.

“Disabled Americans deserve every opportunity to achieve their dreams,” Duckworth said in a statement today. “The bipartisan ABLE Act would allow disabled Americans to invest in saving accounts without having it count against their federal benefits.”

The money earned in an ABLE account would supplement but not replace Medicaid, Social Security and other benefits, allowing for people with disabilities and their families to pay for extra day-to-day costs, such as transportation and education.

Under the measure, funds in an ABLE account would not count against an individual’s eligibility for federal programs. The legislation also includes safeguards against Medicaid fraud.

U.S. Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) is the legislation’s main sponsor in the Senate, where it has 25 co-sponsors, so far not including Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk.

The House bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R, FL-4), has 88 co-sponsors (49 Democrats, 39 Republicans), including Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D, IL-3) from the 3rd congressional district.  

The act was originally introduced in the 111th Congress, but it failed to move forward.

The measure was reintroduced last year and 270 bipartisan co-sponsors from both chambers signed on, but ultimately it was not included in the January 1 fiscal cliff deal.

And it’s not yet clear whether the act has a chance this time around, according to at least one disability policy expert.

Robin Jones, project director of the Great Lakes ADA Center and an instructor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said the bill has great merit and value, but it’s almost impossible to predict whether or not some or all of the legislation will move forward given the budget battles brewing in Congress.

“Any time you’re trying to amend the IRS tax code, it tends to have more problems because of the implications for tax collection and revenues,” she said.

Jones said it’s estimated that 20.1 million families in the country have at least one member with a disability. Although all those people may not take advantage of the tax-free accounts if the act is approved, it could have “a lot of fiscal implications,” she said.

“Legislation that impacts people with disabilities, I don’t think it gets treated differently in light of fiscal constraints than it does any other group that has legislation that is pending,” she said.

She said the act’s bipartisan support could help it advance, and strong support and attention from the disability community could also play a key role.

Advocates tout the measure as a way to help relieve some financial strain from those impacted by disabilities.

“It addresses an issue that is important for people with disabilities,” said Gary Arnold, a spokesperson for Access Living. “This provides a resource for families to save to go toward expenses related to disabilities. We think that’s important.”

He said Access Living is pleased Duckworth signed on, as well as Lipinski, and he said he hopes more elected officials will follow suit.

“Many groups in the disability community are rallying behind it,” Arnold said.

Arnold said Access Living supports the measure, although it’s not something it’s working on at the moment. Access Living is a member of the National Council on Independent Living, which has included the ABLE Act in its policy agenda, he added.

Duckworth said the ABLE Act encourages those with disabilities to invest in their futures and live fulfilling lives.

“I urge Congress to pass this legislation as soon as possible,” she said.

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