By Jennifer Longdon
The ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Act (HB 2388) was passed by the State Legislature and signed into law by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey on May 12th. His announcement read in part: “Too often, parents of children with disabilities face unique challenges and tremendous anxieties when it comes to the health and wellbeing of their kids. Ensuring their long-term financial security should not be one of them.”
The Act will allow individuals who are born with or acquire a disability before the age of 26 an avenue to pay for disability-related expenses without losing federal benefits like SSI, Medicaid or SNAP (food stamps).
Amina Kruck, Vice President of Advocacy for Ability360, explained: “The ABLE accounts will be especially beneficial for families who want to help their young adult children transition towards independence. On their own, most of the youth will only have SSI as income, which is barely enough to live on initially until they develop a career that pays enough to be self-supporting. With an ABLE savings account, family and friends can contribute to the account and their money could help supplement rent or support services, even tutoring when the person with a disability goes to college or job coaching when the person pursues his or her employment experience.”
The bill originated with State Representative John Allen (R- LD15), Chair of the Children and Family Affairs Committee in the House, who said that he took up this issue after meeting with stakeholders. “I want this community to succeed. This bill had broad support and allows a safe, tax-exempt avenue to help young people with disabilities. This is a real opportunity to provide needed services without adding a burden to taxpayers.”
The bill overwhelmingly passed both chambers of the State Legislature with only three nays in the House and two in the Senate.
“I was happy to support the ABLE Act. It promotes self-sufficiency among all our residents. This bill had broad bi-partisan support. This is good for Arizona.” said Katie Hobbs, Senate Minority Leader.
Eligible individuals can shop state-by-state for a plan that best suits them. Arizona’s law is nationally attractive, as it mirrors the federal legislation in scope by allowing account holders to save up to $14,000 per year with a $100,000 cap before SSI/SSDI is impacted.
Robert Smith, President of Silvertree Special Needs Planning, served on both the Drafting and Stakeholder committees as the bill was introduced and made into law and worked to ensure that Arizona’s law was not more restrictive than federal guidelines. He says that fees and investment options will be important factors in choosing a plan to suit your family. We asked what one should consider when looking for guidance on the various upcoming plans: “Choose a firm that specializes in special needs planning full time, one that focuses exclusively on the disability community, displays an understanding of the key issues and not just markets their existing products to them.”
A limited number of financial institutions will create ABLE accounts, which become available in 2017. When the details of these plans become available, look for Ability360 to join with community partners to host informational sessions.
Jennifer Longdon is known to drink too much coffee, ask too many questions and then write about it. She has served on numerous Boards and Commissions focused on disability advocacy including the Phoenix Mayor’s Commission on Disability Issues, the Statewide Independent Living Council and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation Public Impact Panel. Jen has a T-4 spinal cord injury and uses a wheelchair full time. She’s a regular contributor to LivAbility.
Legislative Advocacy 101
This is Amina Kruck’s adaptation from a “Make Your Voice Heard” presentation at Ability360 by Tim Schmaltz for Protecting Arizona’s Family Coalition (PAFCO) in 2014. Thank you to Tim and PAFCO.
A new Arizona Legislative session beings in January. Legislators will be making decisions about funding for public programs like health care, vocational rehabilitation, mental health services, respite care, education. We are expecting bills to 1) expand a MediGap supplemental health insurance policy option for people under 65 who have Medicare (People over 65 already have the option);
2) establish ABLE Act savings accounts for persons who have disabilities; 3) funding to support expanding vocational rehabilitation services for Arizonans with disabilities; 4) funding for Respite Care services.
A good idea is not enough. Being right is not enough. Legislative decisions are influenced by either organized money or organized people. People can make a difference if we are organized and act.
There are lots of ways to be an advocate: Educating policy makers on the ramifications to their decisions; organize your agency or group to take action; Join groups organized around an issue you care about; write emails or letters ( personal is best); make calls; make visits; letters to Editor or Op-Ed; testifying on bills when they are heard in committee (in person or on-line); Educational forums/meetings; action alerts (Join Ability360’s Empower Alert system); attend Action Days at the Capitol; candidate forums; elections/ voter registration/ voter education/ voter turnout; organized rallies; neighborhood caucuses.
It’s about relationships – do you have one with your legislators? You need to know them and they need to know you. Advocacy is urging them to act in a particular way on a particular bill. They are more likely to listen to you, if they know you. Provide them with information and stories about your interests, causes and values as a constituent. What are their interests?
Advocacy Do’s and Don’ts
-Be polite and friendly
-Play on emotion
-Include personal relevance
-Mention that you are a voting constituent
-Follow up afterwards
-Do Not Be Angry
-Do Not Be Hostile
-Do Not Be Threatening
-Do Not Have too much information
-Do Not Take up too much of their time
-Do Not Lose Credibility
-Do Not Be Dishonest or Exaggerate
Every year over 1,000 bills are proposed and only about 300 pass. The session typically only lasts 100 days so it is over by mid- April.
Arizona Legislature’s website : www.azleg.gov
This is your key advocacy tool for the Arizona state legislature.
You can find contacts and information about legislators under the House or Senate Member button. You can find who your specific legislators are if you don’t know yet.
Bills: You can find and track bill progress. You can find which committees meet when and who the committee members are. For a bill to become law, the same bill version needs to pass through both the House and the Senate and be signed by the Governor. That gives you time to contact your legislators about bills, testify at committee hearings and contact the governor.
You can watch committee and floor proceedings through this website.
Request to speak System
You can create an account at home, however, you must come to the capitol the first time you want to use the Request To Speak program and log into one of the Kiosks to activate your account.
The Request To Speak in Committee system replaces sign in slips used by those wishing to testify in committees. Committee chairpersons will have electronic access to listings of everyone signed up to speak and will know in advance who is for or against a particular bill.
To use this application, you must sign in at any one of the kiosks positioned outside the committee rooms on the first floor of either the House or the Senate (1700 W. Washington, Phoenix, AZ 85007) the first time you use the Request To Speak program. After that you will be able to sign in from home and register a position on any bill shown on an Agenda (whether or not you wish to speak).
Community – We are not alone, we are in this together and together we are powerful, we can change the world.
Find your passion — that cause or group that motivates you to act.
Find your voice — your role, your way to be an effective citizen advocate.
Find your power — connect with others to give practical ways to have real impact for your causes.
Amina Donna Kruck
VP of Advocacy, Ability360
Donna Kruck is the Vice President of Advocacy programs at Ability360. Kruck is a state Professional Licensed Counselor with a master’s of Counseling from Arizona State University.
Kruck supervises several programs, including the volunteer program which includes a 65-member peer mentor volunteer team, the This Is MY Life self-determination program for persons with developmental disabilities, the AZ Freedom to Work Program, Social Security Work Incentives Benefits Planning Assistance and Outreach Program and Ability360’s Advocacy Program, which addresses individual issues and community/systems change.
As Vice President of Advocacy, Kruck creates programs which empower individuals with disabilities and their families through advocacy related workshops, one-on-one mentoring, facilitating wellness groups, providing technical assistance for the development of consumer-driven initiatives, and developing community partnerships to address barriers to consumer choice, equal rights and self-determination. Kruck also provides workshops on the legislative process, disability oppression, self-advocacy skills, and is a regular contributor to Ability360’s quarterly magazine, LivAbility.