By Bob Allen
Twenty-eight faith groups including American Baptist Churches USA and its American Baptist Home Mission Societies endorsed legislation in Congress allowing Americans with disabilities to open tax-sheltered savings account for certain long-term expenditures.
Members of the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition said in a letter to senators that passage of the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014 — called ABLE for shorthand — would “allow people with disabilities the chance to escape poverty and live the American Dream.”
The bill, which passed the House of Representatives Dec. 3 with an overwhelming vote of 404 to 17, is the broadest legislation to help people with disabilities since passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990.
It is expected to move quickly in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-Ky.) are co-sponsors, a rare show of bipartisanship in a Congress deadlocked over various issues.
The bill, modeled after tax-free college savings accounts, would amend the IRS tax code to allow families to set up tax-free savings accounts at financial institutions to pay for expenses such as education, housing, transportation, job training and health care.
The Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition, a nonpartisan coalition of 33 national religious organizations from the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh traditions, appealed to the “rights and dignity” of an estimated 54 million Americans born with disabilities.
“Allowing Americans with disabilities to open tax-sheltered savings accounts to pay for certain long-term expenses will remove barriers to employment, independent living, and ultimately, economic self-sufficiency,” said Curtis Ramsey-Lucas, managing director of resource development for American Baptist Home Mission Societies. He was recently named as interfaith director for the IDAC, an outreach arm of the American Association of People with Disabilities.
Ramsey-Lucas commended Congress for broad bipartisan support of the measure.
The bill is not without detractors. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank formed in 1973, said it would “expand the welfare state.”