SCRANTON — U.S. Sen. Bob Casey came back to his hometown on Wednesday to try to help the families of disabled children across the country.
Casey was at the Arc of Northeastern Pennsylvania to push for passage of the Achieving a Better Life Experience, or ABLE, Act, a bill he introduced in the Senate last year. U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., introduced it in the House.
The bill would amend the tax code to allow tax-free savings accounts for the families of children with disabilities to help pay for expenses such as long-term care, education, housing, transportation and health care.
Many adults with disabilities need help saving because they are limited in how much they can earn from working, without risking becoming ineligible for government support programs. The bill would supplement, but not supplant, benefits such as those from private insurance, Medicaid, the supplemental security income program and employment.
The senator was not alone in his promotion of the bill. Sara Wolff of Scranton, a leading advocate nationally for individuals with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities, also was among those who spoke to the small gathering of families and advocates to push for the bill’s passage.
Casey, who said the bill has support from more than 70 senators and more than 350 House members, Democrats and Republicans alike, explained why he and other supporters feel the legislation is important.
“Number one, it relates to the individual,” he told the small gathering. “We believe as Americans, people with disabilities are very able. Two, we want to do everything we can to give these families some peace of mind.”
Wolff, 31, who said she has made countless trips to Washington, D.C., to fight for the bill, has a personal interest in its passage. She has Down syndrome and told the families what the bill’s passage would mean to her.
“I want to be able to work a full-time job,” Wolff said. “I work two part-time jobs, I volunteer here. I don’t make more than $700 a month. I want to be able to work at a full-time job … (and) be able to put my own money in an account.”
She said passage of the bill into law would help her pay for college, housing and transportation.
“I want to take more college courses, but I have no way to pay for these courses,” she said.
Wolff predicted the bill would pass this year.
Another speaker, Elaine Jimenez of Jessup, who started NEPA Aware, a support group network for families of children with autism spectrum disorders and multiple disorders, is the mother of three boys with autism and of a girl. She said the ABLE Act would help free children from crippling disabilities.
Before the program, Casey toured The Arc facilities on Meadow Avenue. The local chapter of the nationwide organization is an advocate for education rights, community support, legislation and public awareness for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.