Over a year ago I wrote about problems with the ABLE Act, the well-intentioned bill that the divide-and-conquer wing of the GOP was tweaking into semi-irrelevancy. It passed with a definition of disability that only included those disagnosed before age 26, a sign of the way too many politicians like to differentiate between the worthy and unworthy disabled, as they do between the worthy and unworthy poor. I listed lots of rhetoric showing this pattern, then asked:
As we head into the final few weeks of the 113th Congress, questions remain. Will ABLE pass? What definition of disability will emerge in the final bill? Who will Congress consider worthy?
This is why Courtney’s story is so important. I am the father of a boy with Down syndrome and am personally invested in this bill’s passage. I know, though, that whatever passes, my son — diagnosed since birth — will be included in the definition. No one wants to take his benefits away. But what about Courtney? What about the person who develops disability through injury, age or disease later in life? They too need the ability to save, to work and to garner what independence they can.
This is the danger of playing politics with disability. Definitions are complicated, and needs are real. Instead of trying to divide and conquer, let’s pass a bill that can offer dignity and security to all.
Why should my son, diagnosed with a disability 5 minutes into his life, be treated better than someone who gets a traumatic brain injury on their 27th birthday?
I have to say, though, that disability politics are never simple left-wing/right-wing. There are so many GOP officials who do great work on disability, and good disability legislation routinely passes with huge majorities. So I read this piece on tweaking ABLE with some optimism.
Under the latest proposals, people with disabilities who are employed would be able to allocate extra money each year to their ABLE account. Beyond the existing annual cap of $14,000, those who are working could also deposit their earnings up to the federal poverty level – currently $11,770 for a single person.
In addition, eligibility for the accounts would be expanded to include people with disabilities that onset by the age of 46, an increase over the current requirement that conditions must exist prior to age 26.
Finally, the lawmakers want to allow families to be able to rollover money they’ve saved for an individual with a disability in a 529 college savings plan to an ABLE account.
Let’s keep pushing for better policy.