A major tax overhaul taking effect this month is bringing changes to savings accounts for people with disabilities and sparking concern about funding for programs this population relies on.
Republicans in Congress pushed through a $1.5 trillion tax package in December. Tucked inside the law are tweaks to how people with disabilities can use ABLE accounts, which are designed to allow individuals to accrue money without jeopardizing their government benefits.
Under the new tax law, people with disabilities will be able to roll over funds from a traditional 529 college savings plan to their ABLE account. This provision is likely to help families who established typical college savings plans before learning that their child had a disability, proponents say.
In addition, the legislation allows individuals with disabilities who are working to save even more money in their ABLE accounts. Annual contributions to the accounts are capped at $15,000 per year, but the new law will allow people with disabilities to save their earnings above and beyond that threshold up to the federal poverty level, currently $12,060, potentially allowing as much as $27,060 in deposits.
While the added savings could benefit some, disability advocates are warning that the change comes with risks due to the way the law was written.
ABLE account holders will be responsible for monitoring their contributions above $15,000 to ensure that they are in compliance with the law and contributions from earned income will be viewed by Social Security and Medicaid differently than other ABLE account deposits. Mistakes could be costly, potentially disqualifying individuals from government benefits, advocates say.
“I believe there is a great deal of uncertainty with respect to what this provision actually says/does — despite the intent — and how it should be implemented,” said Chris Rodriguez, director of public policy at the National Disability Institute. “To the best of my knowledge, ABLE programs are not currently implementing this provision of the tax law due to this uncertainty and need for clarification.”
Meanwhile, disability advocates remain wary of what lies ahead. Tax cuts mean less federal revenue and they’re expecting battles ahead in Washington over spending on everything from Medicaid to special education, housing, transportation and Social Security.
“How this plays out in terms of revenue is just frightening,” said Julie Ward, deputy executive officer for public policy at The Arc. “We’re very concerned that they’re going to look at cutting entitlement programs — Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security — to make up for this loss in revenue.”
I L Specialist