The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which was signed into law by President Obama Dec. 19, should greatly improve the lives of people with disabilities who are forced to live in deep, intractable poverty because of ridiculous, antiquated federal law. But this legislation doesn’t go nearly far enough.
Living with a disability is expensive. Often, Medicaid is the only public funding source people with disabilities can turn to for help paying for costly goods and services like wheelchairs and in-home assistance.
We become trapped in poverty because, to remain eligible for Medicaid, we must never have personal liquid assets of more than $2,000.
We have no choice but to remain poor forever. It’s no wonder that in 2013, 29 per cent of adults with disabilities lived in poverty. That’s more than twice the rate of the general population.
The ABLE Act allows people with disabilities and our families to establish accounts in which we can save up to $14,000 a year and $100,000 in total without sacrificing eligibility for programs like Medicaid and Social Security.
The ABLE Act finally provides a ladder we can grab hold of to climb out of the poverty. The idea behind the legislation makes so much sense that it passed with overwhelming majorities through the bickering, inert House and Senate.
But only those whose disabilities manifest before age 26 will be eligible to establish ABLE accounts. This arbitrary provision leaves people who become disabled in adulthood still trapped in poverty. That’s completely unfair.
The law also says that any money remaining in an ABLE account when the account holder dies must first go to pay Medicaid bills. This unfairly penalizes survivors.
Before the ABLE Act, people with disabilities were punished for depending on Medicaid. For many of us, life will be much better now. But Congress hasn’t finished the job. People with disabilities shouldn’t have any more restrictions than anyone else when it comes to building assets. And no one should be left behind.
Mike Ervin is a Chicago-based writer and disability rights activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.