The House passed the measure yesterday and the Senate is likely to approve it before adjourning for the year later this month. The law is a serious attempt to address a real problem—the financial challenges faced by many people with disabilities. But it is too limited and too poorly targeted to really address those issues. Mostly, it is more evidence that Congress cannot respond to the enormous financial challenges of caring for those who need long-term supports and services with small, patch-work solutions like the ABLE Act.The first problem does not really apply to autism, since diagnoses usually come during childhood.
Crucially, only people who became disabled before reaching age 26 would be eligible. They could continue to participate after 26, but the onset of their disability must have occurred prior to that age. For the most part, ABLE would be limited to people with developmental disabilities, mental illness, and severe childhood conditions such as cerebral palsy.
Few older adults would be eligible since their disability usually results from late-in-life diseases such as dementia, heart failure, and severe arthritis.
In addition, while the program benefits those with friends or relatives who can contribute to the accounts, it does much less to help those from truly low-income families who may not have money to give. Some of those who would benefit already have access to another mechanism, Special Needs Trusts.
The second is more relevant. I am grateful that ABLE will help middle-class families like mine, but it does not do much for those with greater economic challenges.