July 2019 AchievABLE Newsletter

The July issue of our AchievABLE Newsletter contains stories on the following:

August #ABLEtoSave Webinar Series

The ABLE National Resource Center is excited to announce our annual, nationwide #ABLEtoSave Awareness Campaign Webinar Series that will run throughout the month of August 2019. The series provides information about Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts. Weekly webinars will be held each Thursday in August from 2:00- 3:00 p.m. ET and will include information for people with disabilities, family members and those who support them. Each webinar will feature the stories of ABLE account owners and/or family members and how an ABLE account enhances the health, independence and quality of life for people with disabilities.

The webinar on August 1 is an orientation and an introduction to ABLE accounts and #ABLEtoSave month. To kick off the #ABLEtoSave campaign, you will hear the stories of several ABLE account owners and their ABLE goals and the wide variety of ways in which an ABLE account can be used. #ABLEtoSave weekly webinars will include the following:

  • Kick off: August 1: Welcome to #ABLEtoSave Month: An Orientation on What You Need to Know About ABLE (REGISTER)
  • Week 1: August 8: Opening an ABLE Account: Key Decisions for Success (REGISTER)
  • Week 2: August 15: ABLE Best Practices and Action Steps for Family Members and Supporters (Circle of Support) (REGISTER)
  • Week 3: August 22: ABLE Best Practices for Working-Age Adults (REGISTER)
  • Week 4: August 29: Celebrating All the Ways You Are ABLE: Announcing Winners from the #ABLEtoSave Video Contest and Next Steps! (REGISTER)

#ABLEtoSave Video Contest Open Until July 31

The ABLE National Resource Center would like to invite all ABLE account holders to participate in our #ABLEtoSave Video Contest! Help motivate others to open an ABLE account and start on the road to a better financial future. First prize is $500, second prize is $250 and third prize is $100! Each winner will have their prize money deposited directly into their ABLE account.

Here are the rules:

  • You must be an ABLE account holder.
  • The video must be no longer than one minute.
  • Your voice or subtitles must be understandable and your face must be clear.
  • Video titles must include the hashtag #ABLEtoSave.

Deadline to enter is July 31, 2019.

Learn more and enter the #ABLEtoSave Video Contest!

ABLE NRC Ambassador Highlight: Miles Lessen

Miles Lessen and his wife, Maya, are the parents of four-year-old Asher. Asher loves to laugh, and he cracks jokes and plays tricks to make others laugh. Like many preschoolers, Asher loves to sing, dance and dig in the sand. He creates elaborate scenarios for play from his active imagination. He has taken to reading early and enjoys playing games that involve math concepts. 

Miles Lessen, his wife and son sitting on the ground outside with mountains behind themIn honor of July and Autoimmune Disease Month, we are highlighting the Lessens’ story. Asher has Type 1 Diabetes and severe allergies that were caused by an incredibly rare genetic disorder called IPEX, which affects his immune system. Miles opened an ABLE account for Asher with the New Mexico ABLE program (NM ABLE) in 2018. 

Miles opened Asher’s ABLE account because, “As a parent, I wanted to do everything I could for my son to give him the best chance of success for his future, especially for his medical needs. One way to do that was to create an ABLE investment account. Asher is always going to have more expenses than other people. There were no other options that would work because other options would eliminate Medicaid. ABLE opened up the opportunity for me to invest in Asher’s future while maintaining his life-preserving medical benefits.”

Living in New Mexico, the Lessens can take a state-level tax deduction for contributions into 529 College Savings Accounts, but not for contributions into  529A ABLE accounts. So, Miles is depositing the maximum that he can into Asher’s 529 College Savings Account until it reaches the limit that would preclude Asher from getting the benefits he needs. At that point, Miles will roll the 529 College Savings Account funds into Asher’s ABLE account. This maximizes the tax benefit for their family. Miles devised this strategy from the 2018 ABLE Financial Planning Act that allows 529 College Savings Accounts to be rolled over into a 529A ABLE account in increments of up to $15,000 per calendar year. *

As one of our nine 2019 ABLE National Resource Center (ABLE NRC) Ambassadors, Miles is more than Asher’s dad. He is not only his son’s biggest advocate, but also an advocate for others, many of whom may also be in a position to benefit from an ABLE account. Miles works at the Veterans Administrations (VA) Hospital providing emergency psychiatry in the Emergency Department, as well as outpatient psychiatry for acute patients. He has presented on ABLE to the Medically Fragile program, which allows kids to qualify for Medicaid despite their parents’ income. Miles is also reaching out to state legislators in New Mexico to encourage them to give the same tax benefits at the state level to ABLE accounts that they currently give to 529 College Savings Accounts. 

*Changes to ABLE in 2018: ABLE Financial Planning Act: Provided that the beneficiary is the same individual on both accounts (or a family member of the 529 College Savings account beneficiary as defined in the law), it is now allowable to transfer funds in a 529 college savings account to an ABLE account without incurring any tax or penalty. The funds rolled over from the 529 college savings account to an ABLE account are subject to the annual contribution limit and thus capped at $15,000 for any given tax year (provided that no other contributions into the account have been made during that tax year). Changes to ABLE in 2018

ABLE Advocacy Ratchets Up on Capitol Hill

This article first appeared in National Disability Institute’s (NDI) May/June Issue of the Washington Insider Newsletter. The ABLE National Resource Center is managed by NDI.

National Disability Institute’s Washington Insider readers will recall that bills in both the U.S. Senate and House to expand the reach and impact of ABLE accounts are now in play, and support for their enactment is growing. The ABLE Age Adjustment Act (S. 651/H.R. 1814) would amend Section 529A(e) of the Internal Revenue Code to increase the eligibility threshold for ABLE accounts for onset of disability from prior to age 26 to prior to age 46. ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) accounts are tax-favored accounts that are designed to enable individuals with disabilities to save for and pay for qualified disability expenses without jeopardizing public benefits.

As currently written, the existing ABLE Act prevents otherwise-eligible individuals with disabilities from realizing the benefits of ABLE accounts. By passing the ABLE Age Adjustment Act, more than 14 million people with disabilities would be allowed to open ABLE accounts, nearly doubling the current eligible population. Moreover, the long-term sustainability, availability and affordability of these programs may be at risk without an expansion of age of onset eligibility and other enhancements.

What’s Needed Beyond Age Adjustment

Regarding additional enhancements, the disability community is broadly committed to advocating for enactment of age adjustment first prior to any concerted efforts to promote additional policy objectives. Indeed, both the House and Senate age adjustment bills currently winding their way through the legislative process deal exclusively with increasing the age of onset eligibility to before age 46 and no other objectives. Nevertheless, it is critical for the disability community to continue to formulate and prepare to advocate for other federal and state improvements to the ABLE Act. In addition to exploring the establishment of a tax-advantage benefit to employers who contribute or match ABLE contributions of their employees, NDI, in partnership with our disability policy colleagues and key congressional policymakers, is developing possible strategies for seeding ABLE accounts, along with expanded education and outreach approaches, utilizing a variety of disability program channels including Medicaid, vocational rehabilitation (VR) and special education.

Two specific policy objectives under consideration are getting some contentious attention recently. While the ABLE Act currently allows states to lay claim to ABLE account funds remaining after the death of an ABLE account beneficiary who received Medicaid services, a growing number of states have enacted legislation prohibiting what many advocates refer to as the Medicaid “clawback.” Yet, the National Association of State Treasurers (NAST) and others are proposing that the Medicaid payback be eliminated at the federal level. Some disability community Medicaid champions, however, are strongly cautioning that such a federal push to prohibit recoupment of Medicaid dollars could backfire politically. Similarly, the role of individual and/or organizational Social Security representative payees to open or even assist in management of beneficiaries’ ABLE accounts is being floated, a strategy which its proponents argue has the potential to vastly increase ABLE account enrollment given the millions of Social Security recipients with representative payees. However, this policy objective is also generating some angst among disability advocates who have long been concerned about widely reported misfeasance in the representative payee program.

IRS ABLE Advocacy

Meanwhile, as the campaign for the ABLE Age Adjustment Act presses on, disability advocates in Washington are also turning their attention to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) which has yet to publish final rules implementing the ABLE Act. With such final regulations being four years overdue, ABLE Act congressional champion, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA-5) is assisting advocates in urging the IRS to either proceed with issuance of final rules or, at a minimum, to provide supplemental sub-regulatory guidance in discrete areas needing the most clarification. The final IRS rules had been rumored to be coming out this summer, but now the latest published agenda of federal regulatory activity would place IRS publication of ABLE Act rules no earlier than Spring 2020. While it is critical that we ultimately have final authoritative rules, the IRS has indicated that the approach the agency took in its 2015 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and subsequent policy guidance, while not yet officially codified in regulations, is nevertheless a reliable guide for account owners to follow.

What Happens Next?

Co-sponsorship of both the House and Senate versions of the ABLE Age Adjustment Act is growing and on a strong bipartisan basis. As support continues to increase in the Senate, our champions have been engaged in fruitful negotiation with key staff of the Senate Committee on Finance, the body with jurisdiction over the age adjustment legislation. Advocates are encouraged to reach out to their two U.S. Senators and to ask them to co-sponsor S. 651. This is particularly critical to do if your Senator is a member of the Finance Committee; you can find the list of Senate Finance Committee members at https://www.finance.senate.gov/.

Disability advocates in Washington are shifting their attention a bit to the U.S. House where we need to recruit members of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee to help us move H.R. 1814 through the process. Advocates are encouraged to ask your member of the U.S. House to co-sponsor H.R. 1814, and especially if your House member serves on the Ways and Means Committee – https://waysandmeans.house.gov/.

Webinar Archive: ABLE Myths vs. Facts

A recording of June’s webinar, “ABLE Myths vs. Facts,” is now available.