Missouri legislators continue autism successes with bill signature

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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – The Missouri legislature has notched another win in their fight to support those with disabilities and their families with the Governor’s signature on SB 174, the “Missouri Achieving a Better Life Experience Program (ABLE)” program.

“Helping children with disabilities is not a partisan issue, it’s a human issue. It is about the right of all children to realize their God-given potential,” Gov. Jay Nixon said. “The Missouri ABLE program will allow people with disabilities and their families to save money in a special, tax exempt savings account so that they can provide for their basic necessities, and maintain a better quality of life. It’s a common sense, compassionate piece of legislation and I am proud to sign it into law.”

The program allows a person with disabilities, or their families, to open a tax-exempt savings account for the purpose of paying expenses relating to disabilities, including autism. The law will allow parents and families of individuals living with disabilities to cover their child’s future education, housing, transportation and related expenses in a tax-free savings account.

Schmitt

Schmitt

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-Glendale), was signed at the Southeast Missouri State University Autism Center in Cape Girardeau today. Gov. Jay Nixon was joined by local legislators and disability advocates.

“Most individuals living with a disability will require some sort of care for the rest of their lives, and those services can come at a high cost,” said Sen. Schmitt. “By establishing the ABLE program, we can give those citizens and their families a financially-sound way to plan ahead so they have peace of mind in knowing those funds are there to help with their long-term needs. I was proud to see my colleagues recognize how important this legislation is to Missourians living with disabilities.”

Individual accounts may receive up to the federal gift tax amount annually, which is currently $14,000. Individual accounts may accrue up to $325,000, which is the same as the 529 MOST lifetime limit.

“Missourians are a generous people, with big hearts and a strong sense of community,” Gov. Nixon said. “This legislation supports these values and I greatly appreciate the work of the General Assembly, especially Senator Schmitt and Speaker Richardson, in getting it to my desk.

Missourians with disabilities are eligible to open a Missouri ABLE account if they are also entitled to benefits based on disability or blindness under the Social Security Act, if such blindness or disability occurred prior to turning 26.

The money saved within a Missouri ABLE account is exempt from asset consideration when determining Medicaid or other benefit eligibility.

A torch was lit for autism in the Senate a few years ago when then-Senator Scott Rupp sponsored and handled several bills which came to fruition, including the creation of the Missouri Commission on Autism Spectrum Disorders and the Missouri Office of Autism. Rupp also sponsored bills to provide insurance coverage for treatments and therapies for individuals with autism with termed Republican Rep. Dwight Scharnhorst and former Kansas City Democrat Rep. Jason Grill. The commission first met in 2008 and continues to this day. Scharnhorst fought hard for autism-related causes in honor of a grandchild who has autism.

Schmitt picked up the torch quickly after taking office, and was successful last year sponsoring legislation to legalize CBD oil, which can be used to treat those with severe epilepsy, including his own autistic son, Stephen.

Senate Bill 174 also authorizes the Missouri State Treasurer’s Office and the newly created Missouri ABLE Board to administer the ABLE program. The Missouri State Treasurer’s Office will promulgate rules for the creation of Missouri ABLE accounts. After the adoption of these rules, Missourians can begin establishing Missouri ABLE accounts.

 

ADVOCATES REACT: 

“Passage of ABLE in Missouri is another step forward for families affected by disabilities and a credit to the community’s strongest and most tireless advocate in the Missouri Senate, Senator Eric Schmitt,” said Bill Bolster, President of the St. Louis Chapter of Autism Speaks. “Just as families can now save for their children’s education in tax advantaged accounts, families affected with disabilities can do the same in preparing their loved ones for adulthood.”

“The ABLE Act is really a landmark win for the disability community – a key piece of the puzzle,” said Cathy Brown, Director of Public Policy and Advocacy at Paraquad. “It provides the flexibility for people with disabilities to save money for future needs without jeopardizing the care and services they need today. Senator Schmitt knows firsthand what this legislation will mean to Missouri families and we commend his leadership in advancing this important legislation through the legislature.”

“In my 34 years working in the disability field, I have never met an elected official who is more devoted to children with disabilities and their families than Senator Eric Schmitt,” said Darla Templeton, CEO of the Epilepsy Foundation of Missouri & Kansas.  “The ABLE Act is exactly what families need to plan for their child with special needs. Children with disabilities have been penalized. Because they receive Medicaid benefits, they can’t save for the future. The ABLE Act will correct that and offer options to save. It is expensive to have a disability. Incentives to save while generating income will offer future peace of mind, financial security and reduce reliance on the public programs.”

“ABLE is one of the most significant and necessary pieces of legislation ever passed for people with disabilities,” said Jeremie Ballinger, Executive Director of the Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis.  “It allows this population the chance to have greater independence and opportunity, and ultimately to live life with the dignity and respect they deserve.  We are grateful for Senator Schmitt’s leadership in making sure Missouri residents have access to ABLE accounts as soon as possible.”

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Rachael Herndon Dunn

Rachael Herndon is the managing editor at The Missouri Times, but also produces This Week in Missouri Politics and publishes Missouri Times Magazine. She joined the Missouri Times in 2014, returning to writing after working as a campaign and legislative staffer. Rachael studied at the University of Missouri - Columbia. She lives in Jefferson City with her husband, Brandon, and their two children. To contact Rachael, email rachael@themissouritimes.com, or via Twitter @TheRachDunn.

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