The Missouri House of Representatives' Ways and Means Committee heard public testimony Monday on a bill that would increase financial fluidity between two types of savings accounts to create new opportunities for people living with disabilities.
House Bill 2115, sponsored by state Rep. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, would allow people to transfer money from a MOST 529 account to an ABLE account without tax penalties.
MOST accounts are Missouri's version of the federal 529 program; 529s are tax-advantaged savings plans that can be used to cover educational expenses. The 529 programs originally were designed to be used for college costs, but the recent federal tax overhaul expanded eligibility to include K-12 education expenses.
The same federal tax overhaul also enabled money transfers from 529 accounts to ABLE accounts. According to the state ABLE program's website — the state treasurer's office oversees the ABLE and MOST 529 account programs — eligible people who live with disabilities can use ABLE accounts to pay for qualified expenses including basic living expenses, housing, transportation, education, assistive technology, employment training, personal support services, legal fees, health and wellness and financial management, all without losing eligibility for other public benefit programs such as Medicaid.
State Treasurer Eric Schmitt's son, Stephen — who has autism — reportedly was the first person in the state to have an ABLE account opened on his behalf when the program debuted last April.
Though the federal tax overhaul made the changes necessary to allow transfers from 529 accounts into ABLE accounts, Bernskoetter told the committee Monday that state statute also needs to be changed to allow for that in Missouri.
State Rep. Richard Brown, D-Kansas City, told Bernskoetter he applauded him for bringing forth such a bill to do just that.
"I'm a parent who had a child with a disability, (having found out) after the birth of our child that she had cerebral palsy, and there are many families out there who struggle to try to have savings for their children for educational needs," Brown said.
"In my daughter's case, college was not an option for her, (but) she still needs to continue to have ways of living, and this bill enables families to do that," he said. "I believe it's something that's needed and can help families — especially young families with children starting out, and they have a life-changing event like this happen."
David Pearce, senior policy coordinator with the state treasurer's office, testified in favor of the bill and said families would be voluntarily able to make transfers to ABLE accounts from 529 accounts — it wouldn't be required.
He said there are about 150,000 MOST 529 account holders, but because the ABLE program started in the state just last April, there are only about 500 holders of those accounts.
"There's not a lot of folks at this point who've signed up for it, but we're encouraged by how it's going," he said.
He noted there are about 17,000 ABLE account holders nationally.
The director of public policy and advocacy for Paraquad — a St. Louis-based organization that seeks to empower people with disabilities — said last April there are 800,000 Missourians living with a disability, KBIA reported.
"We don't really see much of a fiscal note impact on that," Pearce said of the change that would be enacted by Bernskoetter's bill, although it's a few years too early to tell without more people holding ABLE accounts.
Chuck Pierce — a representative of the Missouri Society of CPAs — also testified in favor of Bernskoetter's bill for consistently aligning the state's tax treatment with the federal one.
No one testified against the bill Monday.
People interested in opening an ABLE account can do so online for free, according to the program's website, although an initial contribution of $50 will be needed.
Investors can make contributions of up to $15,000 a year, but in the near future they may be able to make a further $12,060 contribution if they are employed.
Missourians pay $3.50 a month to maintain ABLE accounts, and there is an asset-based fee of 0.19-0.34 percent, depending on chosen investment options.
For more information about ABLE accounts, call 1-800-439-1653, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit moable.com.
For more information about 529 accounts, speak with their financial advisor or visit missourimost.org/home.html.