Achieving a better life for disabled people

Published 9:45 am Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Minnesota’s own Hubert Humphrey once said that the moral test of our government isn’t just in how we treat the young, healthy, and able-bodied. It’s also how we treat the sick, the needy, and people with disabilities—those in need of a little extra support. These values are near and dear to our hearts in Minnesota, where we have long strived to ensure that people with disabilities have access to the same basic resources and opportunities as everyone else.

Amy Klobuchar

Amy Klobuchar

During my time in the Senate, I have worked to share those Minnesota values across the country. That’s why I helped lead the push in Congress to successfully pass bipartisan legislation called the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act — a law that will help people with disabilities and their families better plan for their futures.

The reality is that people with disabilities and their families face many challenges, and their expenses can add up in a hurry. Take just one example: the lifetime cost of care for someone with autism is an average of $2.4 million when the autism involves an intellectual disability. Those with disabilities also face unique barriers to finding and holding a job and living on their own because their access to certain safety-net programs can be lost once they establish a minimum level of savings and income.

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That’s where the ABLE Act comes in. This law, which passed Congress with strong bipartisan support, creates tax-advantaged savings accounts — much like the 529 accounts many families use to save for college — that people with disabilities can use to cover expenses like education, housing, employment support, assistive technologies, and wellness — all without jeopardizing the other support and resources they count on.

In the months after the ABLE Act became federal law, states across the country have been quick to pass legislation to implement it. Since January, 25 states — including Minnesota — have passed ABLE Act implementation bills, and I’ve been pushing the federal government to issue regulations so that these states have the guidance they need to launch ABLE programs and families can realize the law’s benefits.

Many Minnesotans know a family or a person who has been affected by a disability. For a lot of us, this is personal.

When my daughter was born, she couldn’t swallow for nearly two years. She had a feeding tube, and the doctors didn’t know what was wrong with her. It ended up being a temporary problem, and we were able to get through it. But during those two years, I was able to see through the eyes of a parent of a child who was struggling, and I know that, like me, the parents of children with disabilities want what is best for their families — both now and for the years to come.

There are families like these all across the country — including many here in Minnesota — who can envision a brighter future for their loved ones thanks to this legislation. That’s why more than 70 organizations that help people with disabilities support this legislation, including the American Association of People with Disabilities, Autism Speaks, and the National Disability Institute.

In the 25 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law, we have made progress in removing barriers and empowering people with disabilities. Now we must do even more. This is one of those laws that will do exactly what it says it will do: help millions of Americans with disabilities all across the country achieve a better life by helping them save for their future. Though there is still more work to be done, this is an important step to ensuring those with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else.


Amy Klobuchar is a U.S. senator from Minnesota.