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By: William Daroff
Last week, disability activists across the United States, including myself, were greatly encouraged as the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act moved one step closer to passage in Congress, thus bringing many in the disability community one step closer to being able to plan for their futures.
Standing together without fear of partisanship or petty political squabbles, the bill was passed by the House Ways and Means Committee with unanimous support. Advocates have spent more than eight years urging Congress to pass this legislation, which would further the ability of the most vulnerable among us to lead healthy, independent and financially secure lives. Now is the time to pass this important legislation and make this dream a reality.
The ABLE Act, which has bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, would provide a tax-advantaged savings account of up to $100,000 for disability-related and long-term care expenses. These funds would supplement, but not supplant, the benefits received from sources such as private insurance, Medicaid and the Supplemental Security Income program, providing new and valuable lines of support to people with disabilities and their families.
ABLE accounts will be able to fund education, housing, transportation, employment support, health prevention and wellness, assistive technology and personal support. With these new savings accounts, families of children with disabilities will have access to new funds to help pay rent, hire a tutor and obtain job-related training in the future.
ABLE accounts would provide tremendous support to people with disabilities and their families – support that simply does not exist at this time. Right now, the laws that are in place discourage people with disabilities from saving for the future, as those with more than $2000 in assets are ineligible for many essential government benefits. The ABLE Act allows people with disabilities to save for their future without putting those much needed benefits in danger.
There’s a reason that the Jewish Federations, alongside our partners in the Jewish Disability Network (including our co-chairs at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism), have worked so hard to make the ABLE Act and other similar legislation a reality over the past four years. Inclusion, one of the central tenets of Judaism, is necessary in enabling individuals to achieve self-determination. By reaching for greater inclusion in our communities, we will allow people with disabilities to participate fully in the way that they deserve.
Countless organizations, both in and out of the Jewish community, are doing incredible work improving the lives of people with disabilities- through employment, housing, educational and numerous local initiatives. One such initiative is our partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation in developing the Ruderman Family Foundation Opportunity Initiative, placing interns with disabilities in Jewish Federation offices throughout the country. Federations are beginning to walk the walk, hiring interns and staff with disabilities, and we encourage other employers to afford people with disabilities the same opportunities as anyone else.
The ABLE Act is a necessary measure to ensure equality and independence for all Americans. It signifies that our country values the rights of all individuals and recognizes the potential within each and every one of us. The time is right, and the time is now, to make this dream a reality at last.
William Daroff is the senior vice president for public policy and director of the Washington office of The Jewish Federations of North America. Follow him on Twitter to learn more.