Sen. Charles Schumer called on Congress Monday to pass legislation to create savings accounts with tax breaks to benefit individuals with long-term disabilities such as Down syndrome and autism.
The Achieving a Better Life Experience Act would help family members and individuals save money to cover critical education, medical care and other costs. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the accounts, in which up to $10,000 a year could be deposited, would be similar to 529 college savings plans, with tax-free earnings.
"When caring for some of the most vulnerable children, managing the huge expenses should be a top priority for everyone," Schumer said Monday at the Nassau BOCES Rosemary Kennedy School in Wantagh.
Schumer compared the proposal to other federal accounts with tax advantages. "If it's good for education, good for retirement, what about our special kids?" he said.
John Kemp, president and chief executive of the Viscardi Center, a nonprofit in Albertson that provides services to children and adults with disabilities, called the legislation "the beginning of the end of a terrible disability-poverty cycle that forces many Americans into poverty and then keeps them there."
To qualify for many government services, people with disabilities can only have $2,000 in savings and earn no more than $700 a month, he said.
Rosemarie O'Shea, whose 20-year-old daughter Melissa is autistic and has attended Nassau BOCES for about 18 years, said holding more than $2,000 in a savings account for her daughter would reduce the Supplemental Security Income benefits that her daughter receives.
She said the emotional worries of raising a child with special needs are "compounded by the financial worries."
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Robert Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). The House bill is expected to be brought up in the House Ways and Means Committee as early as this week. The Senate could consider its bill in September, according to Schumer's office.
On Long Island, there are 40,000 recipients of Supplemental Security Income benefits and almost 4,000 cases of autism in school-age children, according to Schumer's office. An estimated 25,000 New Yorkers have Down syndrome and 80,000 have Fragile-X, a genetic condition, he said.