Did you know that you can make a difference in the lives of children with ASD and other developmental disabilities? It’s as easy as writing or sending an email to your local or state representative, senator and asking for their support for funding or legislation that will ensure a better life for the person with the disability…and it only takes 5 minutes.
A good example of how you can make a difference is seen in ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Act, which was recently approved by the House Ways and Means Committee and has moved on to the Senate. The ABLE Act would amend Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Service Code to allow tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities that would not count toward the $2,000 individual asset limits that apply to the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid programs. Such accounts are now permitted for college savings.
The accounts could be used to cover housing, medical, transportation, education and other expenses. The bill has been drafted to ensure the savings accounts would supplement, not replace, benefits provided through private insurance, Medicaid, salaried employment, and other sources. To address cost concerns, the scope of the bill was significantly narrowed from the legislation that was introduced in 2013. Among the changes are a cap on contributions at $14,000 a year, requiring that individuals open accounts in their home state or with a state which contracts with their home state, limiting individuals to only one ABLE account, and limiting the availability of ABLE accounts to people who acquire the disability before age 26.
Surprisingly, ABLE was first introduced in Congress in 2006. Although it has taken this long to finally reach the Senate it was the persistence and perseverance of advocacy groups, parents and educators who continued to rally representatives to this cause.
Another exciting example of the impact of advocacy efforts is the passage of the Autism CARES Act by the Senate. The bill sponsored by Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Mike Doyle (D-PA) reauthorizes the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act of 2011 for an additional five years. Since its original enactment in 2006, the law has advanced the science and practice in the autism field by increasing the number, scope, pace, and coordination of research, surveillance, public awareness, and professional training efforts. The new measure will continue these efforts and includes a number of welcome changes: a name change that uses more respectful language, a designated ASD position in the Department of Health and Human Services to oversee the law’s implementation, increased representation of self-advocates and family members on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), and requiring a report on the needs of transitioning youth.
So, how do you get the attention of your legislator? I have included some resources to get you started.
- Find your state legislators email and/or mailing address
- Write a letter to your state representative
- Start your own petition
As there are further developments with legislation I will continue to give you updates.