HAPPY 2nd ANNIVERSARY, ABLE!
Two years ago today, on December 19, 2014, President Obama signed the Stephen Beck. Jr. Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act (PL 113-295) into law, creating a revolutionary opportunity for people with disabilities to save for their future without jeopardizing critical government supports. The National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) and Autism Speaks led the advocacy effort behind the passage of ABLE Act, and ever since, we have been working with state ABLE programs to make ABLE Accounts available.
Today, as the Co-Founder of the ABLE Alliance for Financial Empowerment and President of NDSS, I was honored to take part in the official launch of ABLEnow – the Virginia ABLE program – with the Beck Family, Congressman Beyer, Delegate Filler-Corn and Mary Morris, Chief Executive Officer of Virginia529 College Savings Plan!
In this long, exciting and historic decade-long ABLE journey, it was a moment to see Natalie Beck, Steve’s daughter, now have her own ABLE Account – #ABLEnow! You can watch the press conference from our NDSS Facebook Live feed here.
Or you can also read our NDSS remarks below:
It is beyond a pleasure and honor to provide remarks at today’s monumental launch of the Virginia ABLEnow Program. As the co-founder of the ABLE Alliance for Financial Empowerment and the President of the National Down Syndrome Society, today is a very historic day – As someone who worked on the ABLE Act for nearly a decade, I can’t think of anywhere else I would rather be – celebrating the 2nd Anniversary of the passage of the ABLE, making even more history!
The ABLE Alliance was formed earlier this year to support individuals with disabilities in their efforts to achieve financial empowerment and economic independence. The ABLE Alliance is working to:
- Promote and market the widespread availability and diverse utilization of ABLE accounts to eligible individuals and their families
- Advocate for legislative and regulatory policies, at both the federal and state levels, to ensure effective ABLE Act implementation and full participation
- Create and support initiatives that advance financial literacy tools for all persons with disabilities
- Educate eligible beneficiaries and their family members and caretakers on ABLE accounts, their use as a savings vehicle, how they interact with public assistance programs, and ways to protect beneficiaries from financial abuse
- Engage stakeholders in advocating for a federal and state public policies that will break down barriers to financial empowerment and economic independence, such as policies that creating meaningful employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities throughout their lifespan
It’s only fitting that two years to this exact day – President Obama signed the ABLE Act into law, and we are standing here in Virginia launching the 9th state ABLE program in the US. This state has been the place of so many ABLE firsts – the first state ABLE bill signed into law (by Governor McAuliffe) after the federal passage of the ABLE Act, one of the first states to have the entire Congressional delegation cosponsor the ABLE Act and most notably – the birth of ABLE itself.
While many people understand the importance of the ABLE Act and now, ABLE programs like ABLEnow – most folks don’t understand the blood, sweat and tears that went into making the ABLE Act a reality. The idea stemmed from a kitchen table – here in Northern VA by five parents who have children, and in some cases, (now) adults with Down syndrome. These parents came up with the idea for what ultimately became the ABLE Act, and set in motion the most significant disability civil rights legislation to date.
The ABLE Act was ultimately named after our late NDSS Vice Chair, one of those five parents around that kitchen table and my dear friend – the quarterback of the ABLE Act – Steve Beck. Steve was one of the most incredible individuals that I ever met – he was a dedicated father, husband and tireless advocate. He and I pounded the pavement (or marble) on Capitol Hill with Stuart from Autism Speaks for years – we experienced many trials and tribulations, many years (eight, in fact), many Congresses (four of them to be exact), many nay-sayers, small victories, set-backs, some House of Cards moments – but we never gave up. Never once.
Steve taught me so much – And he would probably kill me for quoting a Democrat, “one person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” So many people made the ABLE Act a reality – so many people told their own stories, so many people made phone calls, sent emails, tweets, made trips to Washington, so many advocates made this possible.
And while the ABLE Act took almost eight years and four Congresses to enact, when we did it, it was the most bipartisan legislation of all time – we had 85% of the entire US Congress cosponsor this bill, 381 of 435 in the House, and 78 of 100 US Senators! Steve left a legacy like no other, and now today, his daughter, Natalie can open up her own ABLE account. I would say that witnessing the ABLE Act pass the House, just two years ago with Steve sitting in the House Gallery would have been his proudest moment – but I would say today is!
I sincerely want to thank (and congratulate) Mary Morris and Chris McGee for their dedication, commitment and passion for the ABLE Act – they have been leading this effort for over two years. Mary and Chris have become friends and fellow disability advocates.
For ABLE, this is just the beginning, ABLEnow is a life-changing financial tool – that families all across the country will utilize day in and day out for necessary life expenses. Once again, congratulations to the ABLEnow team!