U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar listened to Pete Barnett of Two Harbors tell his unfortunate story — about the sacrifices he faced as a person with disabilities, forced to choose between building a modest nest egg and receiving services he needs — and she shook her head.
“That’s not the first time we’ve heard a story like that,” Klobuchar said Tuesday from within the packed cafeteria of Udac, a Duluth service provider for 147 people with disabilities.
Representatives from other providers were in attendance, too, to listen to Klobuchar roll out the ABLE Act, bipartisan legislation on the precipice of being signed into law by the president. The acronym stands for Achieving a Better Life Experience.
“All we’re doing is making it easier for people to make and save their money,” Klobuchar said of the act that would lift limits on personal savings for people with disabilities. Currently, people receiving disability services can save up to $2,000 before having to spend down their savings or risk losing other sources of income or services.
Barnett found that achieving important benchmarks in life came with a price. He found a spouse. He went from job training at CHOICE Unlimited in Duluth to finding regular work at Culver’s in Two Harbors.
When the couple made too much money jointly, they got a letter saying his federal Supplemental Security Income would be stopped. Barnett explained that he and his wife divorced — not because they didn’t love one another, but to keep vital services intact.
“We’re married in the eyes of God,” said Barnett, who said he wants to build a savings account. “ABLE is important because it will help me work toward our future.”
The ABLE Act, Klobuchar explained, also will allow families to save money — up to $100,000 — for their children with disabilities to help cover housing, education and health care later on in life. Klobuchar said a person with disabilities will incur, on average, $2 million in expenses over a lifetime.
Kristie Buchman, executive director for CHOICE Unlimited, said the ABLE Act will help people to “work more, earn more and set aside their paychecks without being penalized.”
The legislation is viewed as the latest step forward for people with disabilities as it removes another barrier to segregation that, as one speaker reminded, not so long ago included putting healthy people in locked facilities.
“This will make a big difference in the lives of people,” said Roberta Cich, executive director of Arc Northland. “People employed have the opportunity to save for their future.”
Klobuchar said the next step, once the act is signed into law, is for the Internal Revenue Service to write the rules. She said if all goes well the rules should be in place sometime in 2015.