Legislation that Improves the Lives of Individuals with Disabilities: A Look at the ABLE Act, and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Here at M&L Special Needs Planning, we feel it is incredibly important for our clients to realize how current events can impact the lives of our family members with a disability.  Politics and government policy can have a huge influence (whether positive or negative) on any financial or life plans that may currently exist for your family with special needs. For that reason, we strive to ensure that we do our part to inform and educate our clients as to any political or government policy changes as they occur.

Over the last few months, there have been a number of legislative efforts that directly affect the special needs community. As a part of our commitment to educate and inform the public, we have made a point to devote blogs to these events as they happen. In June, for example, we published a blog that examined the ABLE Act, and provided an explanation as to exactly what this piece of legislation is, how it would improve the lives of individuals with special needs, and the current status of the bill. A few weeks later, we examined S2245 – a bill which had just been passed in Massachusetts – that significantly improved the rights of individuals with disabilities in relation to financial planning, government benefit programs, special education, and legislation regarding the protection of individuals with disabilities while receiving government services, among many other issues.

In the last week or so, there have been two significant political events in Washington, D.C. that may have implications for the disability community. The first of these events was an important vote on the ABLE Act, which took place on July 31st – the first portion of today’s post will review that bill, and the result of last week’s vote. We will also be examining the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which was recently signed into law by President Obama. Please join us! And, as always, if you have any questions, be sure to let us know!

The ABLE Act

As mentioned, on June 5th we published a blog titled The ABLE Act: A Summary. In this blog, we provided a discussion of what the Act is, how it can benefit individuals with disabilities, and ended off by providing advice to advocates who wished to do their part to ensure that this important piece of legislation gets passed.

To quickly summarize for those of you reading today, the ABLE Act is a piece of legislation that would allow individuals with disabilities to create tax free savings accounts. These accounts can be used to save for post-secondary education, living expenses, living supports, employment supports, etc. According to the National Down Syndrome Society’s (NDSS) website, “An ABLE account could fund a variety of essential expenses for individuals, including medical and dental care, education, community based supports, employment training, assistive technology, housing, and transportation. The ABLE Act provides individuals with disabilities the same types of flexible savings tools that all other Americans have through college savings accounts, health savings accounts, and individual retirement accounts.”

On June 5th, when we published the blog, the Act still had yet to be passed. Last week, however, an important bi-partisan vote by the House Ways and Means Committee has moved this legislation further – the ABLE Act of 2013 H.R 647 was “ordered favorably reported, as amended to the House of Representatives by voice vote.[i]

According to Insurancenewsnet.com, sponsors of the bill (U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Richard Burr (R-NC) and Representatives Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Pete Sessions (R-TX) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA)) are confident that the success of the Ways and Means vote will provide the necessary momentum to push the Act further – they are hopeful to see it passed and signed into law in September of this year.

For more information, or to see how you can help get this important piece of legislation passed into law, please click here to access our June 5th blog.

Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act – What Is It?

On July 9th, congress passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, “the first legislative reform of the public workforce system in 15 years” by a wide bipartisan majority. On Tuesday, July 22nd President Barack Obama then signed this legislation into law.

Now, you may be asking yourself – exactly what is WIOA? Well, according to Washington Senator Patty Murray, the WIOA is a “bipartisan, bicameral legislation that will improve our nation’s workforce development system and help put Americans back to work.[ii]” The legislation aims to do this by “reauthorizing and reforming core workforce development programs, and by transferring independent living program functions from the Department of Education to the Department of Health and Human Services” – essentially, the restructuring of these programs will help those looking for jobs access the necessary training and support needed to access the jobs. It will also match employers with the skilled workers needed to compete in the global economy.

How Will WIOA Help My Child with Special Needs?

From a disability standpoint, the new law is designed to help individuals with disabilities obtain/return to work and therefore lower the high rate of unemployment among that population. ACCSES, an organization that represents more than 1,200 disability service providers across the country and a staunch advocate for WIOA, maintains that WIOA adheres to the position that “competitive integrated employment is the presumptive, priority outcome for individuals with disabilities, but that other outcomes are also appropriate based on an individual’s person-centered plan.”

According to an article in Disability Scoop, the WIAO significantly limits placements at sheltered workshops and other work environments where people with disabilities earn less than minimum wage. In fact, once WIAO comes into effect, it will no longer be legal for individuals under the age of 24 to earn less than the federal minimum of $7.25/hour unless they have received some sort of transitional or vocational rehabilitation services. The law does allow for individuals to continue working in their jobs if they have tried competitive employment first, and/or are already employed, and/or have been deemed ineligible for vocational rehabilitation. In addition to this, WIOA mandates that all state vocational rehabilitation services reach out and work with schools to provide transition services to all students with disabilities, and requires that these agencies allocate at least 15% of their federal funding toward such transition efforts. To read this article in full, please click here.

WIOA will come into effect in July of 2015, and the subminimum wage laws will be enacted two years after that. For more information, please see the below resources:

WIOA Fact Sheet
WIOA Summary
ACCSES Website
WA Senator Patty Murray Website

Questions? Let Us know!

Thank you all so much for joining us today! We hope that we have provided you with some valuable information as to what is happening in Washington, and how these political movements can influence the decisions you make for your family with special needs. If you have any questions about anything that we have written, please contact us! We are always available to help, and love to talk about issues pertaining to individuals with special needs. As well, please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any general questions about financial planning for families with special needs, life planning, or would like more information about the services that we provide.

Please stay tuned next week when we will be discussing the progress we are making with our special needs housing development project I Montgomery County, Maryland. We will also provide information as to how you can join in this venture, either in Maryland or in Washington, D.C. From the staff here at M&L, happy Thursday!

[i] http://waysandmeans.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=389713

[ii] http://www.murray.senate.gov/public/?p=workforce-innovation-and-opportunity-act

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