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Richard D.
Democrat IL

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  • Achieving Better Life Experience Act

    by Senator Richard J. Durbin

    Posted on 2014-12-16

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    DURBIN. Mr. President, I want to thank my Senate colleagues for joining me in supporting and passing the Achieving Better Life Experience Act. I especially want to acknowledge Senator Robert Casey, who has been a champion for all people with disabilities and the ABLE Act for years.

    Earlier this year, Senator Casey introduced us to Sara Wolff--a 31- year-old law clerk at O'Malley and Langdon in Scranton, PA. Since 2007, Sara has been an advocate for the National Down Syndrome Society. She also happens to have Down syndrome. Currently, Sara cannot have more than $2,000 in assets before her government aid is cut off. Every month, she works with her employer so that she doesn't earn more than $700. This enables Sara to maintain her much needed government benefits.

    Over a year ago, Sara lost her mother to a sudden illness. It was a tremendous loss--her mother was her No. 1 advocate. Before her mother passed, Sara promised her that she would fight to get the ABLE Act passed. Sara has her whole life ahead of her and she needs a savings account to plan for her future, and she is not alone. Thousands of people with disabilities are outliving their parents. Parents need the peace of mind that their children will be taken care of.

    Everywhere I go in Illinois, I meet people whose lives have been affected by disabilities. Take Gene and Lynn Bensinger--from the north side of Chicago. Gene and Lynn are the parents of two adult sons. Their oldest son, Nate, is 21 years old and has autism spectrum disorder. Nate is about to ``age out'' of services offered through Chicago Public Schools and will no longer be eligible for special education services that he relies on. Nate's parents, along with thousands of Illinois families, experience many sleepless nights worrying about their responsibility to financially support their adult children today, in the future, and long after they are gone. Without this important legislation, it is almost impossible for those with disabilities--like Nate and Sara--to save enough so that they can be financially independent.

    The ABLE Act will encourage and assist individuals and families to invest in private savings accounts, which can then be used to support activities that allow those with disabilities to maintain a healthy, independent life. Here's how it will work. The ABLE Act establishes tax-exempt accounts to assist parents of children with a disability to help provide for their long-term care. The accounts can be used to pay for medical care, dental care, education, housing, transportation and other community-based supports for individuals with disabilities. The money earned in an ABLE account would supplement but not replace Medicaid, Social Security, or other benefits. This would enable people, like Sara, to earn a livable wage and save for the future without worrying about losing coverage for critical health services.

    I thank Senators Robert Casey, Richard Burr, and 77 of my colleagues for cosponsoring this legislation. This is a true bipartisan effort. By passing this bipartisan bill today, Sara gets to keep her promise to her mother--and thousands of people with disabilities--like Nate--will finally be able to save for the bright futures they deserve.


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