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Pallone, Thompson Bill to Empower Persons with Disabilities Passes House

September 20, 2016
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Today, H.R. 670, the Special Needs Trust Fairness Act passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 383-22. The bill was introduced by Congressmen Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06) and Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (PA-05) last year and would enable a disabled individual to set up a Special Needs Trust on their own behalf. A Special Needs Trust is a special type of trust that is designed to  supplement certain daily living expenses and medical care.

“The barriers that currently prohibit an individual from creating a Special Needs Trust on their own behalf, despite having the mental capacity to do so, places an undue burden on disabled individuals who are simply trying to make ends meet,” said Pallone.  “This legislation will eliminate these unnecessary barriers and enable individuals living with a disability to provide for their future financial stability."

“I am proud to have worked on this important bipartisan legislation with Rep. Pallone,” Thompson said.  “The Special Needs Trust Fairness and Medicaid Improvement Act is focused on a fundamental issue of equal protection under the law, making sure people across the country with life-changing disease or disabilities are being treated fairly.”

As the law is currently written, disabled individuals must have a parent, grandparent, guardian or the court create a Special Needs Trust on their behalf.  For individuals who may not have an available individual willing to establish the trust on their behalf, this can create significant logistical and financial barriers, and places an undue burden on the individual and our already overworked court system.  The Special Needs Trust Fairness Act will remove this barrier, and allow individuals with disabilities, when appropriate, to create their own Special Needs Trust, which will empower them to be responsible for their own life decisions and have access to what is rightly theirs.

Congressman Pallone spoke in favor of the bill on the House floor. The text of his remarks can be found below and the video can be found here.

Thank you, Mr./Madame Speaker.  I strongly support my bipartisan legislation, H.R. 670, the Special Needs Trust Fairness Act.

This legislation, which I have championed for multiple Congresses with my Republican colleague, Representative Glenn Thompson, would allow individuals with disabilities to set up Special Needs Trusts for themselves without a court petition.  I thank Representative Thompson for his continued leadership on this issue.

A Special Needs Trust is a special kind of trust that is designed to provide support for certain expenses for disabled individuals to supplement Medicaid benefits.  Currently, these types of trusts generally must be established by parents, grandparents, legal guardians or a court on behalf of the disabled individual.  People can only set up a Special Needs Trust for themselves after petitioning a court.  Oftentimes, this process can take several months and can incur significant legal fees during the process.

This is just not right; individuals with disabilities can and should have the ability to set up a Special Needs Trust for themselves, and this legislation fixes that basic inequity.  This is a commonsense, but very meaningful fix in the lives of those living with a disability. 

I’d like to also note that H.R 670 was amended in the Energy and Commerce Committee by adding an additional provision to require states to extend tobacco cessation coverage to pregnant women through the first year postpartum.  This is also good policy.  Tobacco cessation is absolutely critical to both saving dollars and saving lives, and particularly so for pregnant and postpartum women.  When we invest in helping people to quit smoking, the benefit is not only clear to the health of our communities, but also to our economy.  My own home state of New Jersey is currently piloting a project in our Medicaid program specifically aimed at cutting costs and improving birth outcomes through targeted evidenced-based efforts that help pregnant women to quit smoking.

In addition, these policies are fully offset by clarifying that the federal match for hair growth and cosmetic products is available when those products are medically necessary, which is the current policy of most states already. The remaining savings are put in a “Medicaid Improvement Fund”, as a down payment on more positive improvements to the Medicaid program in the future.

I am proud that we were able to work together on these policies.  This is an example of the type of work that we should do more often in the Medicaid program- working together to pass policies that remove barriers for beneficiaries, strengthen benefits, and support the long-term health of the program overall.

I urge my colleagues to support H.R. 670 and I hope that the Senate will consider this new version so that it can swiftly become law.  Thank you, I reserve the balance of my time.