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Program would expand benefits for disabled Ohioans

Special to the Legal News

Published: June 9, 2015

Ohio is on track to join 10 states that have enacted Achieve a Better Living Experience legislation.

The program, also known as ABLE, permits states to provide for the establishment of tax-favored ABLE accounts to provide assistance to disabled individuals who are the account beneficiaries.

“For far too long, a life of poverty has been the unintended outcome of our national policy to help disabled Americans,” said Rep. Jonathan Dever, R-Cincinnati.

“Indeed, in our rush to help, our nation made it nearly impossible for those with disabilities to rise up and out, making it impossible to hold a job and save money, for fear that they could lose what little we gave them.”

That scenario would change under House Bill 155.

The proposed legislation, the Ohio ABLE Act, provides for the establishment, pursuant to federal law authorization, of the ABLE program in Ohio to encourage individuals and families to provide funding to assist disabled persons to maintain a healthy, independent and quality lifestyle.

The measure, jointly sponsored by Dever and Rep. Margaret Conditt, R-Hamilton, was unanimously passed by the House last week and will move on to the Senate for further consideration.

HB 155 models the ABLE program after the qualified tuition programs authorized under Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code, including the creation of ABLE accounts to benefit designated beneficiaries who meet certain disability eligibility requirements established in federal law.

The venture would be implemented and administered by the treasurer of state.

“The need for this bill has stemmed from the passage of the Stephen Beck Jr. Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, which was signed into federal law on Dec. 19, 2014 with the support of 85 percent of Congress,” Dever said.

“Now, each state must pass its own version of ABLE in order to implement this common sense law.”

Dever said it is vital for lawmakers to recognize this opportunity to support the disabled community and “greatly benefit the lives of thousands of hardworking Ohioans.”

“Ohioans with disabilities and their families currently depend on a wide variety of public benefits for income, health care, food and housing assistance,” he said.

Under current law, in order for one to become eligible for these public benefits, individuals must meet a resource test that limits eligibility to individuals who report more than $2,000 in cash savings or retirement funds.

“Essentially, an individual must remain financially underprivileged in order to remain eligible for such public benefits,” Dever said. “The ABLE Act aims to recognize the extra and significant costs of living with a disability.”

ABLE accounts would function similar to that of a regular checking account.

Dever said ABLE account holders would have access to online statements or monthly mailed statements in order to allow for full financial control.

“The savings accumulated in ABLE accounts may fund a variety of expenses essential to people with disabilities, such as medical and dental care, education, community-based support, employment training, assistive technology, housing and transportation,” he said.

“In summary, the goal of this bill is to allow people with disabilities to live full, productive lives, free from fear of losing their benefits such as Medicaid and Social Security. It will also provide families with the ability to save for their child’s future, just like every other family.”

In addition to the 10 states that have established ABLE programs, 29 additional states have pending proposals similar to HB 155.

Gary Tonks, CEO of The Arc of Ohio, said the state’s oldest and largest volunteer lead advocacy organization fully supports the measure being signed into law.

Too often, Tonks said, individuals with developmental disabilities are forced into poverty in order to benefit from public services.

“Our families, like all families, want to help but current law limits our ability to raise our loved ones out of poverty. Our adult loved ones can own a home and a car but statute does not permit them to accumulate the funds necessary to maintain that home or repair that vehicle,” he said.

“Medicaid waivers are a lifeline for our loved ones but waivers cannot pay for room and board.”

Tonks said HB 155 would permit families, who are able, to contribute just like they do for other family members.

“HB 155 will finally provide a means for us not to disinherit our children,” he said. “HB 155 is good legislation. It is good for Ohioans with disabilities. It is good for the citizens of Ohio.”

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