The best ideas (for systemati change) come from the power of the people. In the case of what ultimately evolved into the federal Stephen Beck Jr,. Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, was a bright idea stemming from five amazing parents (who have children with Down syndrome) around a kitchen table in Northern Virginia. At the time, these five parents were expressing their deep frustrations about the inequities that exist in our federal and state systems that prohibit individuals with Down syndrome (and other disabilities) from saving more than $2,000 at any given time. Just months after this initial conversation, Congressman Ander Crenshaw (R-Florida) introduced the first version of the ABLE Act.
A lot has happened since the idea for ABLE and ABLE accounts was born almost a decade ago. On December 19, 2014, President Obama signed into law the ABLE Act. Our organization, the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) with the dedication and support of our grassroots community, spearheaded the advocacy effort to pass the ABLE Act. Ultimately, when the federal ABLE Act was signed into law, 85% of the entire 113th United States Congress supported this bipartisan, game-changing legislation for people with disabilities. This historical legislative victory (Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) even joined forces and cosponsored the ABLE Act on the same day!) wouldn’t have been possible without the countless calls, meetings, tweets, posts and hashtags (many originating from our devoted Nebraska advocates).
For the first time in our nation's history, Congress sent a strong and imperative message that people with disabilities (and their families) could save their own money for the future. With the federal ABLE law in place, the momentum and advocacy focus quickly (and when I say quickly, I mean within days and some case hours) turned to the states – which were required to pass state ABLE laws to establish formal ABLE programs. Since January 2015, 46 states and the District of Columbia have enacted ABLE laws, and with the launch of the Nebraska Enable Program on June 30th, Nebraska will be one of the first states to formally launch an ABLE program.
At NDSS, we couldn’t be more proud that Nebraska will widely offer Enable Accounts to people with disabilities nationwide. NDSS commends Nebraska State Treasurer Don Stenberg and the entire Enable Savings Plan team for their leadership and dedication, and for allowing our decade long vision to become a reality for millions of people with disabilities.
I look forward to joining leaders from the State Treasurer’s Office, the First National Bank of Omaha, the Down Syndrome Association of the Midlands and the Nebraska disability community to launch the Enable Program in Omaha on June 30th. I couldn’t be more proud of my home state (I am a proud Husker) for leading the way for people with disabilities.
I’ve often said, the ABLE Act is the true essence of “how a bill becomes a law”, and Enable is more than just tangible financial savings tool for families to use on a daily basis - it’s a human rights victory for people with Down syndrome and other disabilities.
NDSS is the largest nonprofit organization representing the more than 400,000 Americans with Down syndrome in the United States. Our mission is to be the national advocate for the value, acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome. At NDSS, we envision a world in which all people with Down syndrome have the opportunity enhance their quality of life, realize their life aspirations, and become valued members of welcoming community – the Nebraska Enable program is a huge step toward allowing us to realize our NDSS vision.