Parents raising children with disabilities, including autism, could soon save for their futures with tax-free “529” savings accounts without jeopardizing their eligibility for other benefits.
The new accounts would be authorized under the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2011, which was introduced today in Congress with the support of Autism Speaks, The Arc, the National Down Syndrome Society and a host of other disability rights groups.
The ABLE Act, sponsored with bi-partisan support in the House by Congressman Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) and Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), and in the Senate by Senators Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA) and Richard Burr (R-NC), would amend Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Service Code to allow individuals with disabilities and their families to deposit earnings to tax-exempt savings accounts. The funds could be used to pay for qualified expenses, including education, housing and transportation, and would supplement, not replace, benefits provided through private insurance, employment or public programs.
“This is important, common sense legislation that will provide an incredible financial boost to families affected by autism and other disabilities who are struggling to pay for critical services,” said Bob Wright, Co-founder of Autism Speaks. “If we allow families to save tax-free for college, it is only fair that they be permitted to save to meet the needs of all of their children.”
Qualified disability expenses would include: school tuition and related educational materials; expenses for securing and maintaining a primary residence; transportation; employment supports; health prevention and wellness costs; assistive technology and personal support; and various miscellaneous expenses associated with independent living.
“According to a Harvard School of Public Health study, the cost of caring for a person with autism will exceed $3 million over their lifetime,” said Peter Bell, Autism Speaks executive vice president of programs and services, who spoke at a Capitol Hill press conference where the introduction of the bill was announced.
“Providing care for adults with autism is often far more expensive than for children, yet there are fewer funding resources. As more and more of our children with autism age to adulthood, our hands remain tied in planning for their future, said Bell. “The need for new resources to provide them with necessary care and services is imperative.”
Nora Fitzpatrick and Robert Stephens of Gaithersburg, MD, whose six-year-old daughter, Rory, has autism say the ABLE accounts could help then plan for a more secure future when Rory will join the rising tide of Americans with autism who enter adulthood without assurances of services or financial security.
“In the past four years we have seen huge strides in improvement as well as baby steps,” said Nora. “We’ve also seen behavioral issues pop up and health issues that have set Rory back. The uncertainty of everything is a huge part of the equation for us. The opportunity to start a 529 plan for Rory would be a great way to give us some certainty and comfort for the future.”
House Co-sponsor Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Florida) dicussed the ABLE Act in a House floor speech on Thursday, November 17.