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Proposed federal ABLE Act would help disabled save

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Thursday, April 24, 2014, 11:21 p.m.

Maddie Williams isn't allowed to receive checks written to her from her grandparents for her birthday or Christmas, her mother said.

Doing so would jeopardize the Medicaid benefits that the 4-year-old girl, who has Down syndrome, receives to cover the cost of her occupational, physical and speech therapies — the Medicaid asset limit is $2,000, said Maddie's mother, Courtney Williams, 33, of Point Breeze.

“In the future, if we are not around after she's 18, how do we provide for her and get her the things that she needs, if she's not allowed to have more than $2,000 in her name?” Williams asked.

Williams and her husband, Grant Williams, 33, support a proposed federal bill, the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, that would allow families of people with disabilities to set aside money in tax-advantaged savings accounts of as much as $100,000 to cover expenses related to health care, employment support, housing, transportation, technology and education for children and adults.

The Williamses attended a news conference on Thursday about the bill at the Strip District office of ACHIEVA, a South Side-based nonprofit that offers services and jobs to people with disabilities.

The ABLE bill is modeled on the 529 plans used to save for college education. Income earned would grow tax-free, and withdrawals for qualified, disability-related expenses would not be taxed.

An ABLE account would not affect Medicaid benefits. Supplemental Security benefits would not be affected as long as the ABLE account contains less than $100,000.

“I think ... what the ABLE Act means to families and people with disabilities is an opportunity to save money for when family members, moms and dads, are no longer around to provide things for their adult children, for emergencies that people have all the time and just for things that tend to be very expensive and that insurance and the government do not cover,” ACHIEVA President Nancy Murray said.

The bill has strong, bipartisan support from 70 senators and 359 representatives, said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, who re-introduced the bill in the Senate last summer and was at the news conference. He hopes that the bill will be passed in May, but before it can go to the floor for a vote, the Congressional Budget Office must provide a cost estimate of the bill, he said. The bill has been introduced three times since 2009.

The CBO has estimated that it would cost the federal government $1 billion over a 10-year period in lost tax revenue, said John Rizzo, a spokesman for Casey's office.

By 2020, the population of adults with autism in Pennsylvania will quadruple to more than 30,000 people, according to a 2013 report from the Department of Public Welfare, said state Rep. Dan Miller, D-Mt. Lebanon.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or

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