House Committee to Vote on Fixing a Two-Decade-Old Error That Harms Persons with Disabilities; NAELA Supports Legislation

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The Special Needs Trust Fairness Act corrects a patently false and degrading error in the law that presumed all individuals with disabilities lacked the capacity to handle their own affairs.

We are extremely thankful for the bipartisan leadership of GT Thompson and Frank Pallone as well as Fred Upton and Joseph Pitts for bringing this common-sense measure before their committee.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Health will vote on whether to approve the Special Needs Trust Fairness Act (H. 670) tomorrow. The legislation corrects an error in the law that presumes that all persons with disabilities lack the mental capacity to handle their own affairs. Reps. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ) led as sponsors in the House. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) were the lead sponsors of the Senate bill (S. 349).

“We are extremely thankful for the bipartisan leadership of GT Thompson and Frank Pallone as well as Fred Upton and Joseph Pitts for bringing this common-sense measure before their committee,” said National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) President Catherine Seal, CELA, CAP.

“D-4-A” Special Needs Trusts ensure that individuals with disabilities can use what savings they have to provide for their supplemental needs while still qualifying for long-term services and supports from means-tested programs like Medicaid without living in utter destitution.

Special Needs Trusts were first recognized by Congress in 1993, but, a likely oversight in drafting meant that only a parent, grandparent, legal guardian of the individual, or a court could establish a special needs trust. This meant that those who do not have a parent, grandparent, or legal guardian must petition the court, causing unnecessary legal fees and delay.

“This demeans persons with disabilities as the law effectively presumes they lack the capacity to handle their financial affairs. It also causes a lot of unnecessary judicial red tape,” said Seal.

The Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on H.R. 670, the Special Needs Trust Fairness Act, on September 18, 2015. The Senate approved the legislation by unanimous consent on September 9, 2015.

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