Thompson bill offers people with disabilities control over financial trusts

U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson said Tuesday he hopes a bill he’s been working on for about a year would give those living with disabilities more control over their futures.

The Howard Township Republican unveiled the Special Needs Trust Fairness Act during a news conference at Sight-Loss Support Group Center of Central Pennsylvania in State College on Tuesday.

Current law prevents disabled individuals from independently creating a special needs trust, instead forcing them to have a guardian or court create the trust, even though the person might have the mental capacity to do it themselves.

Special needs trusts allow those living with disabilities to have their assets be held in a trust to supplement daily living expenses and care.

“Unfortunately this leads to expensive legal fees and court costs and takes time,” Thompson said. “This is not the mark for a just society, nor is it fair to the individual. The current inequity must be fixed.”

House Bill 2123 is co-sponsored by Rep. Frank Pollone, D-N.J., and was initiated last year by State College-based elder law attorney Amos Goodall Jr., who also represents those with special needs.

He said those living with challenges meet those challenges every day.

“We shouldn’t make it harder for them and, therefore, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys is asking that the law be changed to allow people who can create trusts to do so,” Goodall said at the conference Tuesday.

Josie Smith, director of the Sight-Loss Support Group of Central Pennsylvania and who also spoke at the meeting on Tuesday, is legally blind.

“You can say that I am visually challenged, you can say that I’m a person with a disability, and those would all be correct, but that is not how I view myself,” she said. “I just see myself as a regular person who happens not to see very well, and I lead my life like most people. It would never occur to me that I was not capable of setting up a special needs trust on my own.”

Michelle McManus, president of the National Federation of the Blind, Happy Valley Chapter, also attended the conference Tuesday. McManus is blind and she said she supports the new act.

“I just see myself as having other challenges. I am otherwise an ordinary person and do just about everything that anybody else would,” she said. “I pursue my interests just with extra challenges, and not being able to create my own trust or pursue my own financial well-being would not even occur to me, so I feel this is very important. If it’s not passed it just takes away from our abilities.”

Thompson said the next step is to find support in the Senate and engage with disability advocates from across the country, but there is no timeline for when the legislation would be voted upon.

Sue Paterno, who supports the act, was also in attendance Tuesday and said she thinks society should not make it harder for individuals to meet the challenges that they already overcome.