Disability community demands economic inclusion on 20th anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act

Written by Dory Rand on August 5, 2010 - 9:54am

People with disabilities, advocates, and government officials recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) at the White House. While acknowledging that much progress has been made, participants agreed there is still a long way to go to achieve inclusion and opportunities for the one in five U.S. residents who have disabilities—that’s 54 million people, including 7 million who receive federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.

Among the many remaining barriers are public policies that make it difficult for people with disabilities to work and acquire the earnings necessary to build assets. My colleague Tom Foley addresses these issues in World Institute on Disability’s Summer 2010 Equity e-newsletter, noting that people with disabilities face barriers to full participation in society: only 21 percent of working-age people with disabilities are employed, and people with disabilities are twice as likely to have household incomes under $15,000.

Foley notes that asset building strategies tailored to the needs of people with disabilities can improve their economic opportunity and further inclusion. “It is simply time for the disability community to demand economic inclusion,” Foley says. “Opportunities to save earnings like other Americans, mandated inclusion of people with disabilities in asset building through funding mechanisms, qualitative on-going financial education, rational work incentive policies made accessible to people with disabilities and employer incentives are all crucial elements in changing outcomes.”

Woodstock Institute supports inclusive public policies that encourage all persons, including persons with disabilities, to achieve economic security through working, saving, and building wealth. Some of the proposals pending in Congress that would help people with disabilities achieve these goals are the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2009 (S. 493/H.R. 1205) and the SSI Savers Act (H.R. 4937). Both bills have bipartisan support.

The ABLE Act would allow individuals with disabilities a tax deduction of up to $2,000 per year for contributions to an “ABLE account,” which could be used for education, employment training, assistive technology, medical and dental care, community-based supports, housing, and transportation. Advocates are asking House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Carl Levin to convene a hearing on the bill, which has 197 House co-sponsors.

The SSI Savers Act of 2010 (H.R. 4937) would remove disincentives to saving for people who receive certain disability benefits, allowing people with disabilities to build wealth and have a cushion in case of emergency expenses. Specifically, it would amend title XVI (Supplemental Security Income, or SSI) of the Social Security Act to: (1) increase resource limits for aged, blind, or disabled individuals who do not have an eligible spouse; (2) require an inflation adjustment for such individuals, regardless of whether a spouse is eligible; (3) provide a limited exclusion from resources of certain deferred compensation and education savings arrangements; (4) set forth income rules imputing income from certain deferred compensation arrangements; and (5) eliminate the requirement that SSI recipients apply for periodic payments from certain deferred compensation arrangements. The bill currently has five co-sponsors; advocates are seeking additional co-sponsors.

For additional information on inclusive policy proposals affecting persons with disabilities, see the June 30, 2010, testimony of National Disability Institute’s Executive Director Michael Morris to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. Tom Foley and I will be presenting on asset limit reform at CFED’s Assets Learning Conference in Washington, DC in September.