Colleen Davis: Thirty Years After the ADA, Some with Disabilities Still Being Held Back
On July 26, 1990, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) became law. Its passage was landmark action by Congress saying people with disabilities are no less than anyone else and deserve to be protected from discrimination. But now, 30 years later, many with disabilities face discrimination by the inaction of Congress.
The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act became law in 2014. Before that time, people with disabilities couldn’t have more than $2,000 in assets without risking the loss of their means-tested benefits like Supplemental Security Income (SSI),
Medicaid, and other federal and state programs. Opening an ABLE account now gives people the opportunity to accumulate wealth on a tax-advantaged basis without worrying about losing their assistance and use that money to cover qualified expenses including housing, transportation, and education. Unfortunately, the ABLE Act falls short in protecting everyone who could take advantage of its benefits.
The ABLE Age Adjustment Act currently before Congress (S. 651 and HR. 1814) would increase the age of eligibility of beneficiaries of ABLE accounts to the onset of disability before age 46. Currently, only individuals who have a qualifying disability prior to age 26 can open an ABLE account.
Obviously, not all disabilities occur in the first 25 years of life. People of all ages are involved in car crashes; a person cleaning gutters can fall from a ladder; adults older than 25 face debilitating health problems. There are soldiers returning home with life- altering medical complications, and lest we forget, we are living during a pandemic that tragically renders more and more people disabled every day.
Here in Delaware, DEpendABLE offers a low cost 529(a) savings plan allowing for federally tax-deferred earnings to help maximize returns, and withdrawals that are federally tax-free if used for qualified expenses. As of June 2020, DEpendABLE had a total of 87 funded accounts and $753,000 in total assets. Nationally, 42 states and the District of Columbia have launched ABLE programs with more than 56,000 accounts representing $354.8 million invested and providing financial security. Expanding the eligibility for ABLE to age 46 would allow those same savings advantages to an additional 6 million people.
Senator Tom Carper has agreed to co-sponsor the Senate Bill and Senator Chris Coons says he is considering working to raise the upper age for ABLE Act eligibility. Representative Lisa Blunt-Rochester has co-sponsored the legislation in the House of Representatives.
Passage of the ADA helped the country realize that living with disabilities is challenging but not impossible and that we needed to knock down obstacles that blocked the road to the future. As we recognize and celebrate 30 years of those accomplishments, it’s time for our leaders to join Delaware’s congressional delegation in stepping up and paving the way for others who need a smooth road to travel.
Colleen Davis is Delaware’s State Treasurer.