Bill would aid savings for disabled

Altoona mother Angela Bucher said it’s hard to have questions about a child’s future, particularly when one is the parent of a child with sometimes-costly disabilities.

Bucher’s son, a 15-year-old with Down syndrome, would likely need money saved up to help him with education, future employment and living independently, she said. There are few outlets, though, for collecting those funds.

A bill currently in Congress could alleviate some of those fears.

The ABLE Act was originally introduced in 2006 by Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. The latest version introduced in 2013 is expected to pass within the next few weeks. It would allow families of people with disabilities to set up tax-free savings accounts for additional medical and living expenses. This money could be saved without detriment to any government assistance or other funds.

“I think this bill will provide a place for us to save for his future without a lot of expense or regulations,” Bucher wrote in an email. “It would provide us with some peace of mind that he would be able to live the life that he wants to live.”

Casey said these accounts would function much like ones set aside to save for retirement or for a child’s higher education. Family members could contribute to help accumulate money, he said.

Casey said he heard a number of stories from constituents that led to his involvement with the bill.

He said, for example, he met a grandmother who wanted to save some money for her grandchild, who has autism. Opening an account to save for the child would have jeopardized other legal benefits the family was receiving for the child’s care, he said.

“We’ve heard from people all over the country about this,” Casey said. “I think that’s indicative of what families are concerned about.”

The ABLE Act, by allowing families to save up for the futures of the disabled, promotes what those disabled people can bring to the table, Casey said.

He said it was important that the provision zeroed in on the skills those people do posess to help foster their growth.

“It’s a bill that I think both affirms and recognizes the ability of people with disabilities,” Casey said. “They have all of the ability and determination to live a life independently, to hold down a job and to pursue their own dreams, but we can’t put weights on them by not allowing them to save in a tax-free manner.”

The bill reached about 60 co-sponsors in the Senate by the end of 2013, which is why he is pushing Congress to act on it now, Casey said. The bill has little to no partisan issues and has a strong support base in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, Casey said. It has 361 co-sponsors in the House, according to Congress’ website.

“It has more support than any other bill in the U.S. Senate right now,” he said.

Republican leaders were unavailable for comment, but the number of co-sponsors of the bill is split nearly evenly among the parties. Burr, a Republican who introduced the bill alongside Casey, said in a December press release from advocacy group Autism Votes that he was glad to see the bill’s support grow.

“I am very excited that we now have 60 Senators on board and can hopefully expect swift movement on the Senate floor to send this bill to the President,” he said in the release.

Casey said that families nationwide have helped strengthen support for the bill, as they showed how its provisions would benefit people.

“It’s extraordinary. Families all over the state have been the best advocates for it,” Casey said, “the best voices and most effective voices for why it should pass, and that’s why it has enjoyed such broad-based support.”

As for the Buchers, there’s still a list of questions about their son’s future.

But they may be soon getting some positive answers.

“We are trying to decide what sort of future will be possible for him. Will he be able to live independently? Will he attend post secondary training/education? Will he be employed?,” Angela Bucher said. “This bill would provide an opportunity for my family to save money for him to achieve some of these goals.”

Mirror Staff Writer Paige Minemyer is at 946-7535.