“Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” these are the inalienable rights self-bestowed to Americans in the Declaration of Independence, and the foundation upon which the American Dream is meant to be built. Yet, for the millions of Americans living with disabilities, that dream falls short of reality for a variety of reasons, chief among them financial security.
The direct result of eight years of hard work on the part of self-advocates and other stakeholders within the disability community, the recent launch of the ABLE Act in Florida is a powerful example of the difference self-advocates can make in their “pursuit of happiness.”
The financial barriers that those with disabilities face in the quest for independence are numerous and multifaceted. Not only is the cost of daily living with a disability remarkably higher than that of the average individual, but the income limits imposed by programs such as Medicare and Medicaid -- upon which many people rely on to cover expenses (i.e. personal care) that private insurance will not-- create further obstacles to prosperity. However, with the recent passage and implementation of the ABLE Act (Achieving a Better Life Experience Act), the road to financial freedom looks smoother for some with disabilities.
The ABLE Act empowers states to provide persons with disabilities who meet certain criteria tax-advantaged savings accounts to pay for some disability-related expenses. Additionally, ABLE account funds are disregarded for means-tested federal programs such as SSI and Medicaid. The ABLE Act was sponsored by Rep. Ander Crenshaw of Jacksonville, passed by the 113th Congress, and signed into law by President Obama on December 19, 2014. The Florida version of the ABLE program, which was enacted into law May 21, 2015, is administered by ABLE United and was made available to the public July 1, 2016. Per ABLE United, criteria for the Florida-based program is as follows:
Individuals must have acquired a disability prior to the age of 26.
Proof of qualifying disability may be provided by either a physician or the receipt of SSI and/or SSDI payments.
Individuals are limited to a single account, with anyone having the availability to contribute up to $14,000 (total) in a single year.
Monies deposited in ABLE accounts are limited to use for disability-related expenses such as education, health, housing and transportation.
In the event of an account-holder’s death, there is a “Medicaid Payback Provision” which entitles the government to recoup all or part of the funds in the account for payment of medical expenses.
Though far from all-encompassing, the ABLE Act was designed to ease the monetary toll levied upon those with disabilities, as well as provide the beginnings of a pathway toward greater financial stability. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly from a self-advocacy perspective, the successful passage and implementation of this important legislation, serves as an example of victory for those with disabilities. There is a lot to be said for the power of self-determination. And though progress may at times be slow, the enactment of programs such as ABLE, prove that with persistence and teamwork, advocates and their partners can achieve much for the disability community at large.
For more information about the ABLE Act in Florida, or to sign up for an account, go to www.ableunited.com.