Bringing the ABLE Act to Georgia
For the first time in public policy, a piece of legislation recognized the extra and significant costs of living with a disability. These include costs related to raising a child with significant disabilities or a working age adult with disabilities who seek and use supplemental supports for accessible housing and transportation, personal assistance services, assistive technology and healthcare – all costs not covered by insurance, Medicaid or Medicare.
It was the signing of the Stephen J. Beck, Jr. Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act into law that changed the way people with disabilities and their families can build assets for a secure financial future.
This monumental legislation is just one of the many advancements that are a result of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990. The law, signed by President George H.W. Bush, declared that people with disabilities have rights to equal access and opportunities in inclusive and integrated communities.
A Brief History
The ABLE Act of 2013 was introduced in the 113th Congress by Senators Robert Casey, Jr., (D-PA) and Richard Burr (R-NC), and Representatives Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), and Pete Sessions (R-TX) – along with many other congressional supporters. On December 19, 2014, President Barack Obama signed the bill making the ABLE Act the law of the land.
The passage of the ABLE Act brings many advantages to individuals with disabilities and their families. Before the act, asset building was not possible due to the risk of losing benefits received through Medicaid and Social Security.
“Individuals with disabilities faced significant barriers to living independently because their access to certain safety-net programs could be lost once they established a minimum level of savings and income,” said Nick Perry, public policy specialist and sibling coordinator for the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD). “This created a disincentive to work and save.”
The new law aims to provide individuals with disabilities the same types of flexible savings tools that all other Americans have through college savings, healthcare savings and individual retirement accounts. The legislation also contains Medicaid fraud protection against abuse and a Medicaid payback provision when the beneficiary passes away. The legislation will amend Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Service Code of 1986 to create tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities. The bill intends to ease financial strains faced by individuals with disabilities by making tax-free savings accounts available to cover qualified expenses such as education, housing and transportation.
The ABLE Act would also supplement benefits provided through private insurances, the Medicaid program, the supplemental security income program, the beneficiary’s employment and other sources. It builds on the foundation set forth by the ADA. While the ADA prohibits discriminating against individuals with disabilities, the ABLE Act seeks to level the financial playing field by allowing families affected by disabilities to utilize the progress made by the ADA by saving for the future.
What People Should Know
The opening of ABLE accounts would help more individuals with disabilities work, save and live independently without losing access to Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and other benefits.Like college or healthcare savings accounts, ABLE accounts would support additional costs in various areas such as education, housing, transportation, employment, health and more. (See sidebar for details.)
Additional Costs supported by ABLE accounts:
• Education – Tuition for preschool through post-secondary education, books, supplies and other educational materials and supports related to such education;
• Housing – Expenses for a primary residence, including rent, purchase of a primary residence or an interest in a primary residence, mortgage payments, home improvements and modifications, maintenance and repairs, real property taxes and utility charges;
• Transportation – Costs towards transportation, including the use of mass transit, the purchase or modification of vehicles and moving expenses would be covered;
• Employment Support – Expenses related to obtaining and maintaining employment, including job-related training, assistive technology and personal assistance supports;
• Health and Wellness – Expenses for health and wellness support such as premiums for health insurance, mental health, medical, vision and dental expenses, habilitation and rehabilitation services, durable medical equipment, therapy, respite care, long-term services and supports, nutritional management, communication services and devices, adaptive equipment, assistive technology and personal assistance;
• Assistive Technology / Personal Support – Expenses for assistive technology and personal support with respect to any of the above;
• Miscellaneous Expenses – Financial management and administrative services, legal fees, expenses for oversight, monitoring, and funeral and burial expenses.
Individuals with disabilities, families and friends can contribute up to $14,000 to an ABLE account annually. When it comes to savings, the first $100,000 in ABLE accounts would be exempted from the SSI $2,000 individual resource limit. However, unlike standard 529 or other savings accounts, there is the provision of the Medicaid Payback. The clause states that upon the death of the beneficiary, the State can seek reimbursement from the ABLE account for any Medicaid costs made on behalf of the beneficiary following the establishment of the account.
“With this in mind, it is important to realize that ABLE accounts will not be the best option for everyone,” Perry added. “They are just one tool in a toolbox that includes Special Needs Trusts, Pooled Trusts and other financial savings tools. The goal is to give Georgians with disabilities as many options to live independently as possible.”
As the push towards making ABLE accounts available in Georgia begins, there will be eligibility requirements for those seeking to open an account. To be eligible, an individual must meet two criteria:
1. Have been diagnosed with a disability before the age of 26, and;
2. Either receive federal benefits under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) programs, or receive a disability certification under pending IRS rules.
ABLE accounts do not impact an individual’s eligibility for Medicaid. However, states would be required to recoup certain expenses through the Medicaid Payback clause upon the death of the individual.
The Employment Connection
As employment becomes the next frontier for disability rights, the ABLE Act and its provisions and protections will also eliminate barriers to work. By preventing dollars saved through ABLE accounts from counting against an individual’s eligibility for any federal benefits program, workers with disabilities can earn and save for the future.
“Employment is just one of the many things that will benefit from the passage of the ABLE Act,” said Perry. “Many have been afraid to work and save due to the risk of losing their benefits. By passing the ABLE Act here in Georgia, people with disabilities have an opportunity to not only get meaningful jobs and build assets, but also to work to get off public benefits.”
The ABLE Act in Georgia
The ABLE Act was a bipartisan effort and had the support of over 85% of Congress. Since its federal passage, over one-half of the states in the US have passed the law and are working to implement it. In Georgia, the work is just beginning. As of this moment, it is one of only eight states that has yet to introduce any ABLE Act legislation. Before ABLE accounts can become available, states need to pass authorizing legislation during their legislative sessions. Georgia’s 2016 legislative session kicks off in January.
To make this law a reality for Georgians with disabilities, GCDD, All About Developmental Disabilities (AADD) and Autism Speaks formed a coalition of organizations in a mighty effort to push for ABLE legislation during the second half of the 2016 legislative session.
The Georgia ABLE Coalition will bring together political, communication and advocacy resources to build the groundwork for advocacy to make the ABLE Act a law in Georgia. In 2016, the Georgia ABLE Coalition will hold an Advocacy Day in which advocates can join disability professionals at the Georgia State Capitol and ask their legislators to support ABLE legislation. Training and talking points will be addressed, but making the ABLE Act a reality needs advocates.
“We want the disability community to join GCDD’s Advocacy Network to receive our action alerts and to stay up-to-date as we move through the second half of the [legislative] session,” said Perry. “We want people to participate and get involved because our collective voices matter.”
The ABLE Act presents an opportunity to free people with disabilities from living in poverty. It upholds the principles of the ADA of independence and self-determination allowing people with disabilities and their families a chance at a meaningful and secure life for the future.
Read the final ABLE Act bill at http://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/647
Join GCDD’s Advocacy Network and stay tuned for action alerts and the ABLE Act Advocacy Day in 2016!
To join the efforts of the Georgia ABLE Coalition, contact Nick Perry at mailto: or go to gcdd.org and click the “Join Our Advocacy Network” button in the footer.
UPDATE ON THE ABLE ACT:
On December 3, 2015, Sen. Fran Millar, along with Rep. Scott Turner, Rep. Lee Hawkins and Sen. Renee Unterman, announced their intentions to file legislation in support of the ABLE Act in Georgia! Be sure to follow GCDD updates during the legislative session that starts in January 2016.
ABLE Act Advocacy Day: To bring the ABLE Act to Georgia, GCDD is hosting an advocacy day on February 24, 2016. More details here.
Read more articles in Making a Difference's Fall 2015 issue here: