North Carolina joined the ABLE Alliance — a group of 13 states that collaborate to fund a federal investment program for residents with disabilities — in January. The alliance was negotiated in part by Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.
The alliance shares its name with the ABLE Act, signed in 2014 by then-President Barack Obama. The ABLE Act is a federal law that creates tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities.
The new ABLE Alliance will help North Carolina offer ABLE Act accounts to eligible citizens with fewer fees.
“Government policy was limiting the potential of individuals with disabilities,” Burr said in a statement. “Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, and I saw the damaging impact of this policy and decided to work together to fix it.”
Programs like Medicaid, food stamps and housing subsidies can only be accessed by citizens if they meet the proper requirements for them, such as having an income below the federal poverty line of $12,000 dollars a year, said Corye Dunn, director of public policy for Disability Rights North Carolina.
But she said these conditions previously forced disabled citizens to spend money unnecessarily.
“It was very difficult to save for a home, move, to start a business or to even meet a major medical expense,” Dunn said. “If (people with disabilities) had assets in excess of $2,000, they had to spend those assets down before they could access Medicaid benefits.”
The ABLE Act raised the $2,000 cap for citizens with disabilities, allowing more people to take advantage of federal benefits programs.
The breaks also apply to education, housing, transportation and employment expenses that disabled citizens might encounter, Dunn said.
N.C. enrollment in the ABLE Alliance opened on Jan. 26, and Dunn said the benefits of the accounts could begin to affect citizens immediately.
“People with disabilities in North Carolina can contact the treasurer’s office and open an account now,” she said. “That means that they are eligible to save up from $14,000 to $100,000 dollars a year, starting right now.”
The past two state treasurers have worked closely with Burr on the ABLE Act, said Brad Young, the press secretary of newly-elected Republican state Treasurer Dale Folwell.
Young noted the alliance’s economic benefits for North Carolina.
“By joining with these other states, we are able to offer a low-fee, less complex program that gives people with disabilities all the opportunities in life,” he said.
Burr touted the bipartisan leadership behind the ABLE Act as an example of cooperation in the Senate — something he said is not often seen by the American public.
Eighty-five percent of federal lawmakers voted for the ABLE Act in 2014.
“The media often focuses on partisanship, but in reality there is a lot of bipartisan cooperation in the Senate,” Burr said in the statement. “The ABLE Act is an example of what we can do when the cause is right.”