Minority Press

Senators Seek Relief for Low-Income Persons with Disabilities

WASHINGTON, DC – An effort to help low-income persons with disabilities cover the cost of daily living expenses gained momentum in the U.S. Senate late Thursday when four key lawmakers introduced a bi-partisan bill allowing individuals to independently create their own special needs trust accounts.

Specifically, the legislation (S. 1672), filed by Senate Special Committee on Aging Chairman Bill Nelson (D-FL), Judiciary Committee ranking member, Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Mike Enzi (R-WY), the ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s Subcommittee on Children and Families, would remove a barrier that prevents those living with a disability from setting up their own special needs trust. Under current law, only parents, grandparents and legal guardians can create special needs trusts – forcing many who have neither a family member nor a guardian to bear the costly expense of petitioning a court to authorize the trust.

Special needs trusts allow those living with disabilities to pay for daily living expenses, such as rent, clothing, and other essentials not covered by Medicaid or Social Security disability benefits.

An illustrative example of the problem is a case involving a 59-year-old Florida woman who suffered from severe depression and agoraphobia and had to appear in court herself after her mother passed without setting up a special needs trust.

“This will remove a costly and unjust obstacle and make it easier for many people with disabilities to meet their own basic needs,” said Nelson.

“Our legislation offers a needed update to the law,” Grassley said. “The law should ease this burden on individuals with disabilities.”

“I’m proud to join Senators Nelson, Enzi, and Grassley in giving men and women living with disabilities the opportunity to make their own long-term financial decisions,” Rockefeller said. “This legislation will give people with disabilities the dignity that comes with having control over their future finances and personal health care.”

“This legislation is a simple step to help those with a disability make decisions for themselves and better plan for their future,” said Enzi.

Reps. Glenn Thompson (R-PA) and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) introduced an identical version (H.R. 2123) in the House in May.

The bill is supported by the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), Easter Seals, the Special Needs Alliance (SNA) and the Academy of Special Needs Planners, among others.