While scanning the crowd at tonight’s State of the Union Address, keep an eye out for Sara Wolff, one of the leading advocates behind the passage of the ABLE (Achieving a Better Life) Act, which allows individuals and families to fund tax-free savings accounts for people with disabilities, without risking other federal benefits.
Wolff, 31, is a clerk in the Scranton law office of Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and a board member for the New York-based National Down Syndrome Society. Casey was part of a bipartisan coalition that led the fight for the passage of the bill, which was signed by President Obama in December. Casey invited her to the event.
The ABLE Act allows up to $100,000 in tax-free savings that people with disabilities can use for education, transportation and housing without losing supplemental social security income. Prior to the act’s passage, people receiving SSI, Medicaid, food stamps or other public benefits could have no more than $2,000 in assets. NDSS has created an ABLE Act fact sheet for those interested in the law’s provisions.
Wolff, who has Down syndrome, said she started talking about the bill soon after joining the board of the NDSS in 2007.
“I didn’t realize how much it would impact me until I became old enough to advocate for myself and for others,” Wolff told me. The safety net offered by the act hit close to home when Wolff’s mother Connie died in 2013, she said. The importance of financial security “brings to light when a loved one is not there any more to help with certain things,” she said.
“People with disabilities ... have the right to save for their future,” she added.
The State of the Union will not be Wolff’s first trip to D.C.—her advocacy work has brought her to Capitol Hill often—though not to an event like the State of the Union. “I’m a little nervous but I’m sure I’ll be fine once I get there.”
View Wolff’s testimony in July before the U.S. Senate Finance Subcommittee on taxation and internal revenue service oversight on behalf of the ABLE Act.
Photo: U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, right, greets supporter Sara Wolff after giving his victory speech in 2012 in Scranton, Pa.—Butch Comegys/The Scranton Times-Tribune/AP-File
A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.