In our current political environment there are many issues that threaten to drive Republicans and Democrats further away from each other. That makes it especially noteworthy when elected officials can put aside philosophical differences to unite behind a common cause. As bipartisan co-chairs of the National Association of State Treasurers’ Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Committee, we believe the ABLE to Work Act is one of those unifying issues that all members of Congress can and should rally behind.
ABLE to Work is a three part improvement package for the ABLE Act of 2014, which allows individuals with disabilities to open tax-advantaged savings accounts to be used for disability-related expenses. ABLE accounts, which are administered at the state level, provide peace of mind to individuals with disabilities and their families by empowering them to save for long-term needs without fear of losing access to means-tested benefits programs.
Our ABLE Committee is working with state leaders across the nation to help raise awareness of this new option to save and invest. We are also partnering with leading disability advocates to identify opportunities for the federal law to be improved. The month of October was National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which offered us a chance to focus in on barriers to employment and new ideas for breaking them down.
The brutal truth is that there exists a significant employment gap between people with disabilities and those without. A 2016 study conducted by the non-profit organization RespectAbility found that only 35 percent of those in the disability community are employed compared to 76 percent of the non-disability population. This economic disparity reflects societal barriers ranging from red tape in government programs to biases in the hiring process.
Elected leaders should deploy every tool available to address this cruel imbalance of opportunity. One of those tools, the ABLE to Work Act, would take the ABLE program to the next level by increasing the amount of money earned at a job that an individual with a disability can save and invest in an account. This change would results in greater financial independence for those individuals by expanding opportunities for full-time employment and letting them save their hard-earned money to cover necessary expenses like medical equipment, educational materials and home retro-fitting.
Since workforce diversity has been proven to lead to greater innovation and productivity, employers stand to gain from this change as well. Businesses can acquire valuable insight by widening the range of life experiences, backgrounds and perspectives represented in their employees.
The ABLE to Work Act is the kind of policy proposal that should bring all policymakers together, regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum. ABLE accounts have already changed the lives of thousands of families across the country in two short years and we know their impact could be even larger. It’s time for Congress to reach for the next level of empowerment by implementing this commonsense improvement to the ABLE law.