WID News Analysis
May 5, 2017
On April 30, Congress put forward an omnibus spending bill that will keep the government funded through September 30, 2017 – and it has major implications for people with disabilities. Certain disability-related programs will remain funded, but others will see steep cuts or be eliminated entirely. It is important to understand these cuts and advocate for programs that support people with disabilities. This is vital for independence, well-being and financial success for our community.
A major initiative that was eliminated is the Assets for Independence (AFI) program. AFI has existed for almost 20 years and last year, provided $18.95 million toward Individual Development Accounts (IDAs), which support people with disabilities around independence and career goals. These federally funded IDAs provide an asset limit disregard, one of the few ways people on SSI can safely save more than $2,000 for their future. IDAs also provide matching funds. Thus, as account-holders invest in their own future (for every dollar that a person saves toward a goal for independence, such as purchasing a home or developing their careers), a government-supported organization will provide $1 or more to help in that process. These accounts are vital for many people with disabilities to build successful lives and independence – IDAs encourage account-holders to invest in their own futures and provide the resources to help them achieve their goals.
Unfortunately, eliminating the AFI program jeopardizes IDAs now and into the future. It will get rid of the opportunity for people with disabilities to open new IDAs, which will limit their personal investments. It also threatens existing IDAs. Accounts are run through organizations that receive government grants, and they may not be able to keep programs running going forward or provide future matching funds. The AFI program has already made a difference in the lives of thousands of Americans – getting rid of AFI and IDAs will eliminate the opportunity for more Americans to invest in their futures and jeopardizes those who have already started on that journey.
Disability advocates have been fighting to keep the AFI program alive for the past several years, and lawmakers have been talking about eliminating it for some time now. The disability efforts were largely successful. When lawmakers learned more about AFI and IDAs and realized their importance, they were more likely to support the programs. This cut, however, comes as a part of a larger $900 million cut to the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Education that is included in the omnibus spending bill through September. Many advocates are beginning to organize and push to restore funding for AFI, as well as build upon it even more. We look forward to seeing this progress moving forward.
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