Congress gets personal as support surges for disabilities act

Congress gets personal as support surges for disabilities act

Portrait of a man with down syndrome. Credit: George Doyle-Stockbyte.
Portrait of a man with down syndrome. Credit: George Doyle-Stockbyte.

.- Congress got personal at a bipartisan press conference on Thursday, with parents of disabled children sharing their stories to push for a bill that would help some disabled persons save for their expenses.

“There’s been a glass ceiling for disability people that's existed in a way they could look through or look out, and they saw something that they were excluded from,” said Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.) who has a 20 year-old son Alex with Down Syndrome.

“The closer to 60 I get – and I hope I make 70 and 80, perhaps 90 – and Alex will go from 20 to 30  to 40, we need to make sure we can take care of not just Alex, as our family responsibility, but others can also,” he said of the ABLE Act.

The ABLE Act, a bill eight years in the making, would create tax-exempt accounts for persons with disabilities, enabling them to save for disability-related expenses like education, transport, and medical care while still remaining eligible for benefits like Medicare.

“It means so much to me,” said Sara Wolff of Moscow, Pa., a board member of the National Down Syndrome Society who herself has Downs.

“To put my life in perspective, last year my mom passed away. And it's going to be two years in February,” Wolff told EWTN News Nightly. She said she is worried of what will happen if her father passes away.

“It feels really great to have this piece of legislation to help with certain things like medical assistance, or transportation, save money for the future.”

The ABLE Account savings of people with disabilities would also not factor against their eligibility for benefits like Medicaid, normally available to someone with assets under a certain level. One of the biggest complaints from the bill's supporters was that persons with disabilities had to live with assets totaling less than $2,000 in order to be eligible for Medicaid.

“Most folks don’t realize that people with disabilities, from the moment they're born or the moment they’re diagnosed, are put into poverty essentially, to qualify for their benefits,” said Sara Weir, the interim president of the National Down Syndrome Society.

“And what we're trying to do with this legislation is basically become less dependent on the federal government, and achieve more independence for people with disabilities by allowing the families and individuals to save for the future.”

The bill passed the House by an overwhelming 407-17 margin and currently has 75 co-sponsors in the Senate. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.), a major supporter of the bill, said he expected it to be passed before the Senate leaves for Christmas but would not say when the vote will be.

The ABLE Act is “legislation that speaks up for people that can’t always speak for themselves,” said Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), who has a 25-year-old son with Fragile X Syndrome. He hopes that bills like the ABLE Act will become the “prototype” for federal legislation.

“What we're really doing is helping them help themselves. And it seems to me that is a prototype of how we ought to do more things in Washington.”

Tags: Disabilities, ABLE Act