A landmark bill designed to help developmentally disabled Idahoans be more independent is now before the full House.
The legislation, co-sponsored by Rep. Caroline Troy, R-Genesee, and Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, allows disabled people to create federally approved savings accounts without fear that their state or federal benefits will be reduced.
The bill ties in with the federal ABLE program, which stands for “Achieving a Better Life Experience.” Individuals or their families can set aside as much as $14,000 per year, or a maximum of $100,000; the money can be used to pay for certain qualified expenses that typically aren’t covered by Medicaid or insurance, including education, housing, transportation and equipment-related expenses.
Jack Hansen, a developmentally disabled young man from Boise, was one of several people who spoke in favor of the bill.
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Under current Idaho rules, he said, “I can’t save more than $2,000. If I do, I lose Medicaid, (Food Stamps) and Social Security benefits. With an ABLE account, I can start saving for a house. I can save for things Medicaid doesn’t cover, like eyeglasses. I can save for a car. This legislation gives me peace of mind, knowing that those savings won’t count against me.”
The bill doesn’t actually establish an ABLE program in Idaho. That’s largely because of cost concerns. Given that the programs require a board of trustees – responsible for record-keeping, determining eligibility, deciding how the money can be invested, how often it can be withdrawn, and insuring compliance with federal regulation – it can cost around $2 million to establish a program.
However, Idaho residents can set up ABLE accounts through other states, such as Oregon or Washington.
“The economy of scale that can be achieved in Washington is dramatically different than what we would see in Idaho,” Burgoyne said. “So the belief is that their account charges would be less than what we would have to charge in Idaho if we enacted a program.”
If someone has an ABLE account in another state, the legislation Burgoyne and Troy crafted would ignore those savings when determining their eligibility for Idaho assistance programs.
The bill also funds a part-time position with the State Independent Living Council to help provide financial literacy education and technical assistance with setting up the accounts.
“I believe this is landmark legislation that would be a great step in furthering the independence of people with disabilities in Idaho,” said Christine Pisani, executive director of the Idaho Council for Developmental Disabilities.
“I think there are hundreds of people who would like help in setting up an ABLE account,” she said. “They want to save something. Many would like to save to be buried, so they can have a proper funeral. They have very simple ideas about saving. They want to save for eyeglasses, hearing aids, computers – very basic human needs.”
Despite the comments, the bill barely squeaked through the House Health and Welfare Committee on a 7-5 vote. Opponents said state technical assistance intrudes on something best left to the private sector, and that the one half-time position could balloon into a larger bureaucracy.
Troy said growth in the program would be a good thing, both for the sense of independence it provides and because taking care of their own needs for things like glasses or dental work can prevent problems that taxpayers might otherwise end up covering.
“Saving is basic to our need for security and independence,” Troy said. “We want people to save.”
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