House votes to pass Special Needs Fairness and Medicaid Improvement Act

Imagine you have a disability.

It could be anything. It could be something that gives you mobility issues. It could be something that challenges your ability to communicate.

But a physical disability doesn’t equal a psychological or intellectual one. A proposed law in Washington took a step closer to realizing that this week.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted 383 to 22 to pass the Special Needs Fairness and Medicaid Improvement Act.

U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township, wrote the bill.

“I’ve been working on it for a number of years,” he said. “It’s really from some perspectives a civil rights issue for people with disabilities.”

The bill would tear down a wall in the law that keeps a person with a disability from creating a special needs trust.

According to the National Association of Elder Law Attorneys, that wall is an oversight in the existing law regarding the category of trusts created to help people with disabilities provide for their long-term needs. As it stands, someone without a parent or other legal guardian can’t establish the trust and would have to petition the court.

“Disability comes in all shapes and sizes. It doesn’t mean they are mentally unable to manage their own assets,” Thompson said.

The bill was co-sponsored by House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

“No matter your background or your walk of life, you should be empowered to pursue your version of the American dream,” said McMorris Rodgers. “For those in the disability community, the ability to save money and financially prepare for their futures is a vital concern.”

NAELA President Catherine Seal called the move “a major step forward in correcting this long-overdue fix.”

The next step is Senate approval. Thompson said the original proposal was passed by the Senate. The current incarnation of the bill includes an amendment for a smoking cessation program for pregnant mothers.

Thompson does not anticipate problems with getting the bill through the Senate again.

“There are a lot of individuals and families that this will benefit in the district and across the Keystone State and the nation,” he said.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce