Tonight the efforts of countless advocates, legislators, former colleagues and congressional staffers converge as the U.S. House is poised to consider the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2013 on the House Floor.
A little over eight years ago, a group of concerned parents and advocates visited Ander Crenshaw’s office with an idea to create equality in the tax code for disabled individuals in this country. I took that meeting because one of my neighbors and former colleagues was part of the group. We sat and talked for a long time and together we laid out the foundation for the first version of what we know today as the ABLE Act.
Each subsequent Congress we pushed for more cosponsors. We educated more offices. We re-drafted key provisions based on input from families, legislators and stakeholders. We worked as a group of dedicated and committed individuals to draft and introduce the best legislative proposal we could – and today we have a proposal that can actually impact the lives of millions with disabilities in the United States.
When we set out on this journey, I recall telling the advocates that this was not going to be easy. I never knew it would be eight years later before we would see our first Ways and Means Committee mark-up of the bill, or our first Senate Finance hearing on the proposal, or actual consideration of the bill. But here we are, with 380 Members of the House joining Mr. Crenshaw and 74 U.S. Senators joining Mr. Casey in a broad bi-partisan, bi-cameral effort to pass the ABLE Act of 2013.
I saw ABLE as one of those “why doesn’t this already exist” moments in my professional career. As my good friends from NDSS, Steve Beck and Sara Weir said, “By enacting the ABLE Act, we aren’t asking Congress to create a new program or give us a hand out, we are asking Congress to give the disability community the chance to provide and save for themselves through savings tools that all other Americans have access to today.”
When the idea was first presented to Congressman Crenshaw, his response was focused and right to the point – if the federal government encourages Americans to save for their retirements through 401(k) plans and for education through education savings accounts or 529 plans, why not expand that to folks with disabilities? That became his guiding principal. These existing tax-deferred saving plans are now such a fundamental part of how families prepare for the future we barely think of them as public policy. But of course they are. The ABLE Act applies this successful model to help people with disabilities and their families save for costs they will likely encounter down the road.
Of all the amazing things I had the privilege of doing during my tenure as a Congressional Staffer, leading the charge for Mr. Crenshaw on this bill will always be one of the highlights of my career. It was such a pleasure to work with so many dedicated staffers on the House and Senate side who helped us in guiding this proposal through the process, and it was equally memorable to meet so many constituents of this cause – not just in Florida or Pennsylvania – but from all over the country. Since my departure from Mr. Crenshaw’s office, I have been working on behalf of the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) to continue to work with some of the most incredibly dedicated people I have met – from the NDSS, to Autism Speaks, to the ARC (to name just a few) – to get to this point.
Tonight we stand at the precipice of one of those unique moments in history – when a simple idea from a group people becomes a legislative proposal that is actually considered by our lawmakers. The ABLE Act represents what is best about our legislative process.
I will be watching with great anticipation, hope, excitement, and pride as ABLE is brought to the floor and when it passes, I will have one of the biggest smiles on my face and in my heart knowing that some sense of equity will be afforded to some of our nation’s everyday heroes.