Bill would allow tax-free savings accounts for the disabled

Most people with disabilities can’t save money for future job training or even an unexpected plumbing bill without the risk of losing their health insurance and other assistance.

A proposed bill in Congress could change that, allowing people with disabilities and their families to open tax-free savings accounts to cover certain expenses for education, housing, health and transportation.

Currently, anyone with more than $2,000 in savings loses eligibility for Medicaid and other assistance programs that limit income and assets, according to a Lancaster Newspapers article.

Maureen Cronin, executive director of The Arc of Pennsylvania, said the bill is important to the more than 26,000 Pennsylvanians with intellectual disabilities helped by her organization who receive services through the state Department of Public Welfare.

“Medicaid is an incredibly important lifeline for people with disabilities,” Cronin said. For most, “it is their health insurance.”

Pennsylvania has an estimated 1.4 million households that include a person with a disability, which is nearly 30 percent of the homes in the state, according to DisabilityPlanningData.com, a website created with funding by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, introduced the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, or the ABLE Act, in February. A vote is expected in May, according to Casey’s camp.

“This piece of legislation will allow families to help their children have a better future,” Sen. Casey said. “The ABLE Act now has support from a strong majority in both parties, in both the House and Senate, because it is a commonsense approach to help families save and pay for their loved ones’ long term care. Passing the ABLE Act will help give these families much-needed peace of mind.”

Not only are people with disabilities limited on how much money they can save, but their benefits can also be affected when they marry — referred to as the “marriage penalty.”

In January, PublicSource told the story of Bob and Tina Norris, a Millvale couple who both have cerebral palsy. When they married, their benefits were cut in half.

Marriage can change benefits if the assistance program counts household income. A couple is essentially treated as one person, which can result in reduced or lost benefits.

Reach Halle Stockton at 412-315-0263 or hstockton@publicsource.org.