Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Crenshaw backs bill to help disabled save money

Advocates for the disabled are pushing Congress to create a tax-friendly investment vehicle similar to those already in use for retirement savings and kids' college funds. The accounts would be restricted to paying for day-to-day expenses, such as education, housing, transportation and health care.

"It's one of those things that's a no-brainer," said Jeff Sell, vice president of public policy for the Bethesda, Md.,-based Autism Society, one of more than 40 national organizations that have endorsed the legislation.

U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., the main sponsor of the House bill, said he supports the measure, in part, because "it's easy, it's common sense and there's not a lot of bureaucracy involved."

The legislation, known as the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, has attracted proponents from across the political spectrum, including Republicans such as Sens. Sam Brownback and Orrin Hatch and Democrats such as Sen. John Kerry and Rep. Kendrick Meek. In all, 23 Senators and 189 House members have thrown their support behind the bill.

Still, it has languished in committees since it was introduced last year.

Pressured by conservative activists, Congress lately has been loath to new spending initiatives. The ABLE Act would fit that definition, costing $40 million in lost tax revenues in its first year and $1.6 billion over 10 years, according to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation.

Advocates have questioned those estimates, saying they fail to account for the additional consumer spending and 4,300 jobs the bill would create. The federal government would recoup $383 million over 10 years while state and local governments would earn $201 million, according to an analysis by the Texas-based public policy consulting firm TXP.

Crenshaw said he wants Congress to find a way to pay for the bill. He added that he hopes the TXP analysis will help sway lawmakers who are wary of the measure's costs.

"We help people save for retirement. We call those 401(k)s. We help people save for education. We call those accounts 529s. There's nothing really to help individuals with disabilities," Crenshaw said.

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