The Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014 (ABLE)

This post was written by UCP intern Katie Tung in collaboration with UCP’s Director of Advocacy, Jennifer McCue. 

There has been a lot of activity around the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE) of 2014. To help you understand the legislation and it’s impact we’ve created a quick summary sheet. As always, if you have additional questions please reach out and let us know.

What it is:

The Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014 (ABLE) allows individuals and families with disabilities to save money in a separate tax-free account that does not negatively affect their eligibility to qualify for federal support programs, most specifically Medicaid and Social Security Benefits. These savings supplement the individual’s current benefit plans and do not disqualify their eligibility to receive federal benefits, unless the benefits are related to housing expenses or the individual has ABLE accounts exceeding $100,000. Medicaid services can be retained regardless of how much is in the accounts.

The purpose of ABLE accounts is to relieve the financial stress caused by the cost of disability-related services. In additional to federal benefits, the assets in ABLE accounts can be used to cover any expense related to the disability of the individual.  These expenses would include but are not limited to: education, transportation, housing, assistive technology, health services and prevention costs. If the individual were to die with assets still in the account, legislation requires the remaining funds to be paid to the state to reimburse for Medicaid benefits.

These accounts would be known as 529-ABLE accounts or 529A. Assets must be added in after-tax dollars but can be withdraw tax-free, similar to 529 college savings accounts. Donors can add up to $14,000 per year, with maximum total contributions totaling at $100,000.

Ohio and Tennessee are the first to have opened ABLE accounts to the public and Nebraska will be opening their program on June 30th. Florida will be enrolling their plan on July 1st. Since individual states are in charge of regulating their ABLE programs, enrollment fees and investment options may vary slightly.

Proposed Improvements:

The ABLE Age Adjustment Act was introduced in March 2016 to raise the eligibility age to create an ABLE account from 26 to 46 years old. The current legislation requires the individual to have developed their disability before the age of 26. By raising the onset age, ABLE could better accommodate individuals who acquire disabilities later in life, such as disabled veterans, spinal cord injuries, heart failure, or other later-developing disabilities.

The ABLE to Work Act would allow individuals with a disability who are employed to personally contribute to their ABLE account. In addition to the $14,000 that can be contributed by parents or guardians, the beneficiary would be able to contribute funds up to the federal poverty level, currently $11,770 per year. Individuals would still qualify for Savers Tax Credit, a tax credit for individuals of low-to-moderate income saving for retirement.

The ABLE Financial Planning Act moves to allow families to rollover savings from their child with a disability’s 529 college saving account to an ABLE account and vice versa. This would allow families to draw previous college savings and put it in their child’s ABLE account without suffering from any taxes. It would also allow families to later draw from ABLE accounts to put into their child’s college savings account.

 

Outline of ABLE Act – http://crenshaw.house.gov/index.cfm/able-act

Ohio’s ABLE program (STABLE) – http://www.stableaccount.com/

Tennessee’s ABLE program – http://www.abletn.gov/

Definitions and qualifications for Savers Credit – https://turbotax.intuit.com/tax-tools/tax-tips/Taxes-101/What-Is-The-Savers-Credit-/INF15617.html

ABLE Age Adjustment bill – https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/hr4813

ABLE Financial Planning bill – https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/hr4794

ABLE to Work bill – https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/hr4795

Legislative Update: January 2016

As we roll into the New Year, we wanted to update you quickly on a few policy issues that wrapped up in the end of the year and will be on our radar throughout 2016: 

 

Caregiving and Respite Care

The issue of caregiving, and providing resources and supports to those who receive and those who provide care is an issue we will continue to invest and pay attention to through iStock_000012685951XSmall2016. To end the year, Congress showed support for Respite Care and Caregiving by passing the Lifespan Respite Care Act  and providing increased funding for the National Caregiver Support Program. Included in the end of the year bill passed to fund the Federal Government was a provision that increased funding for the National Caregiver Support Program by $5 million and Lifespan Respite received an additional $1 million! This is real movement for supporting family caregivers.  In the next months we’ll update you on what’s next for caregiving policy and programs and what you can do to help ensure these programs continue to grow. 

 

Education

In December, Congress passed and the President signed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which goes farther to assist students with disabilities, then No Child Left Behind did.  The new bill incorporates data and new knowledge about how to most effectively teach students with disabilities so they can successfully graduate and become post high school career/college ready. It also ensures accommodations for assessments for students with disabilities; requires local education agencies to provide evidence-based interventions in schools with consistently underperforming subgroups (including students with disabilities), requires states to address how they improve conditions for learning including reducing incidents of bullying and harassment and overuse of discipline practices and reduce the use of aversive behavioral interventions (such as restraints and seclusion). Moreover, this new legislation significantly shifts authority to make very important education decision to the states and school districts. Throughout 2015, UCP participated in meetings, signed letters of support and worked with stakeholders to ensure the bill would strengthen provisions to ensure that all students have the opportunity to receive a quality education.  This bill is one we do support.  Now, over the course of 2016, we will be updating and reaching out to you to ensure that state level practices being put forward reflect what is best for those living with and impacted disabilities.  

 

Complex Rehabilitation Technology

Coverage and reimbursement for Complex Rehabilitation Technologies is an issue that we’ve been working with you, and with others here in D.C. on for the past year.  Specifically, we have been concerned about the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid implementing a provision to restrict access to complex and critical wheelchair components and accessories. The provision was set to go into effect on January 1, 2016.  In a show of support for access to these critical technologies — Congress included in S. 2425, the “Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act” a one-year delay preventing CMS from implementing this restrictive provision!  

While Congress did not include a permanent fix for the problem this one-year delay provides UCP, along with others in the community, the opportunity in 2016 to further our work on the wheelchair accessories issue and in establishing needed improvements overall for reimbursement of complex rehabilitation technology within Medicare and other health insurance programs. We will continue to update and talk to you over the course of the year on how to engage on this important issue!

 

Workforce

In the next few weeks, each of the 50 states will be releasing their Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act plans for public review and comment. Last year, a new law called the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) was passed. This new law is vital for the 1-in-5 Americans who have a disability, as it requires the entire workforce system to become accessible for people with disabilities.

Every state must create a Unified Integrated State Workforce Plan before March 2016. Once a state has completed their plan, they must publish it online. There is an opportunity for organizations to review their state plan and for public comment about the ways each respected plan can help people enter the workforce. This means a state plan that will be inclusive of the most integrated job opportunities for people with disabilities.

 

We are working with others in the community to create tools and guidance for our affiliates and individuals to submit comments and will circulate in the coming weeks.

 

March is National Developmental Disability Awareness Month

March is National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. We will be collaborating with other disability organizations to promote a social media campaign to highlight the many ways in which people with and without developmental disabilities come together to form strong, diverse communities. The goal will be to raise awareness about the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in all facets of community life, as well as awareness to the barriers that people with disabilities still face in connecting to the communities in which they live.

Stay tuned for more information, including dates for webinars on how to become involved, tools for posting on social media and more information on how to engage and leverage this campaign!

The Latest Legislative Update from UCP

As October comes to an end we wanted to provide you with a quick wrap up of what’s happened, what is on the horizon and why it matters for you.iStock_000012685951XSmall

Let’s recap where we are with funding for the federal government: Early in the month Congress was faced with an expiring budget and the threat of a government shutdown. In quick action they voted on and passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) – this extends the current budget through December. The CR really serves as a patch to provide Congress with a bit more time to put together and vote on a longer-term budget. Conversations are currently underway to have a budget on the table that may possibly even extend through November 2016. We are constantly watching the discussions to see how disability programs funded through National Institutes of Health, Administration for Community Living, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are shaping up. These are the programs that provide services and supports necessary to live independent, high quality lives and have the most impact on our UCP universe. On the horizon is the upcoming debate of reauthorizing the debt ceiling. During all of these important discussions, Speaker of the House John Boehner announced that he is resigning and the search for his replacement is currently ongoing. As Congress continues to work through these issues we will continue to monitor and keep you posted.

In addition to the federal funding issues, there have been a few policy developments we want to update you on:

Home Care Rule

First, the Supreme Court issued a statement that it would not revisit the Department of Labor’s rule focused on compensation and coverage of personal care assistants, referred to as the Home Care Rule.This new rule, set to go into effect by the end of the year, would extend minimum wage and overtime protections to home-care workers. The new rules do not apply to home-care workers who are hired directly by patients or their families, but only to those who are employed through businesses, including nonprofit organizations such as United Cerebral Palsy. At UCP, we want to ensure the best outcome for both the workers who provide in-home care as well as those who depend on receiving it. With the rule in place, our focus is now to work with others to ensure that Medicaid state agencies provide reimbursement rates that enable caregivers to continue to provide the quality critical support people with disabilities need to live independently. Read our latest update here.

As implementation of the rule moves forward, we will provide you with information and resources on how to ensure these services are covered.

Reimbursement for Complex Rehab Technologies

The process for which the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) reimburses tools and technologies used by the disability community through a competitive bidding program and over the years, we have updated you on the potential harms that competitive bidding has when it comes to accessing wheelchairs and other equipment classified as complex rehabilitation technology. There are two pieces of legislation right now that are attempting to address this harms. First, is a larger piece of legislation called “The Ensuring Access to Complex Rehabilitation Technology Act” of 2015 that seeks to solve the long-standing reimbursement problem by creating a new benefit category for complex rehabilitation technology. We are working with others here in DC to support this legislation and determine the best path forward to insure that those that need and utilize these technologies can have access to them.

Another more pressing issue as it relates to reimbursement of wheelchairs is a recent decision made by CMS to limit payment for complex wheelchair accessories. This is concerning as accessories is being defined as all customizable and individually configured components that are integral to a functioning char. This new decision will go into effect January 2016.

In an effort to reverse this decision, Congressman Zeldin of New York has introduced legislation (H.R. 3229) which would prevent the proposed rates from going into effect.  We sent an alert asking for you to call your Member of Congress and tell them to support this legislation. View our alert here and Call your member!

We also want to hear from you about why complex rehabilitation technology is important to you –what the impact would be if these new rates went into effect and limited your ability to afford and access this equipment? Send us your story so we can share it with decision makers!