ABLE Act unanimously approved; governor will sign

By Bill O’Boyle - | April 13th, 2016 5:35 pm

By Bill O’Boyle


WILKES-BARRE — Pennsylvania’s Achieving a Better Life Experience Act — or PA ABLE — was unanimously approved Wednesday by the state senate and Gov. Tom Wolf will sign the measure into law, his press secretary said.

The state’s ABLE Act cleared the House on Monday by a 195-0 vote and the Senate approved a concurrence vote Wednesday 48-0 and it now heads to the governor who has 10 days to sign it into law. Jeff Sheridan, the governor’s press secretary, said via email that Wolf will sign the bill into law.

State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, proposed the tax-free savings plan, which will give families a tool to help them plan for the futures of their children with disabilities.

Baker called the ABLE Act “landmark legislation” for Pennsylvania.

“I’ve heard from many friends and people I know with children with disabilities who have told me their biggest concern has always been the future of their children,” Baker said. “I am so proud to be a part of this collaborative effort. It is so rewarding to see this will make such a difference in their lives. We managed to reach common ground by using common sense to achieve a victory that is well earned and much needed.”

Pam Zotynia, executive director of The ARC of Luzerne County and parent of an adult with a disability, said the legislation will “bring people with disabilities out of poverty” and allow for parents to plan for their children’s futures.

“This is an incredible step forward for people with disabilities who will now be able to save funds to support their futures,” Zotynia said. “It will allow people with disabilities to work without the fear of losing any benefits.”

Zotynia said that previously, the rules were that when you received Social Security Disability or Medicaid, you could not have more than $2,000 in assets. She said the ABLE Act allow individuals and families to create accounts — with regulations and rules — that will allow people with disabilities to work without the fear of losing any benefits.

PA ABLE savings account benefits include:

• Deduct ABLE account contributions (up to $14,000 annually) from Pennsylvania taxable income.

• Savings grow tax-free.

• Use account to pay for a wide range of disability-related expenses.

• Withdrawals will be exempt from federal and state income tax when used for qualified disability expenses.

• Accounts would be exempt from inheritance tax.

• ABLE savings are excluded from eligibility determinations for Supplemental Security Income benefits (savings up to $100,000), Medical Assistance and other means-tested federal programs.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, commended Baker, Wolf and all the members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly for making the ABLE Act a reality.

Casey said too many families who have a loved one with a disability live in fear about what will happen if they are no longer there to take care of their child or family member.

“ABLE accounts, which can be used for needs like healthcare, housing or education, can provide these families with a measure of economic security and peace of mind,” Casey said in a statement. “For someone with a disability the ABLE Act also means that they can work and earn money without fear of losing critical Social Security or Medicaid benefits.”

When Casey’s federal ABLE Act became law in 2014, state legislatures were required to pass accompanying legislation to allow families to open ABLE accounts.

“The ABLE Act was rooted in a belief that we all share — that those with disabilities have a lot of ability,” Casey said. “When we take steps to measurably help those with disabilities, we affirm the substantial contributions they make to our quality of life and the success of our nation.”

Baker said no one works more diligently and more passionately than disability advocates, including groups, families, and individuals who relate their personal stories.

“For them, this is a victory well-earned and well-deserved,” she said.

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.