House GOP Chair at Heritage: “People are dreaming again”

As part of her ongoing Faces of Tax Reform discussions, House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) today joined the State Financial Officers Foundation at The Heritage Foundation to speak with financial officers from across the country who are often in charge of administering ABLE programs in their states. McMorris Rodgers shared how people with disabilities are also the faces of tax reform because of the provisions she championed in the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act that build on the legacy of the ABLE Act.

To learn more about how the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act is delivering more jobs, fairer taxes, and bigger paychecks to families across America, visit

The Chair’s Remarks as Delivered:

“It’s great to be with all of you. It’s great to be at Heritage. You know it’s great to be at a place where we have the shared mission of empowering people making sure that everyone no matter where they come from no matter their walk of life that they have that opportunity for a better life. And that is what inspires me. Being a warrior for human dignity human potential trusting people to make the best decisions for themselves. Not a government that decides for you.

“I look forward to our time together today just sharing you a little bit about what I’ve been working on but then also taking some of your questions. I am a strong proponent over ABLE accounts and promoting the ABLE accounts and I want to convince you to do more to advertise ABLE accounts today. And just a little bit of my own story to put it into perspective:

“It was mentioned that I got married after I was elected to Congress. I was 35 and single when I was elected to Congress, so it’s significant to get married and then have three kids. And it’s the best thing that has happened since I was elected to Congress.

“Our oldest Cole was born with that extra 21st chromosome. Most of you know know it as Down syndrome, after John Langdon Down. At first I wanted to change the name but then I read his biography. He was a pretty special guy, too.

“I remember when we got that diagnosis and Brian and I were so excited to be new parents. You know, this is our our first born. And you get the diagnosis and it’s tough news. It’s not what you ever imagined — it is not what you dream. And this whole group came in and sat down and talked with us, a group of doctors and social workers, and they were going through everything that we would expect. It wasn’t a very positive list. I contend today that if anyone upon the birth of their child were given the list of possible things that could go wrong that no one would be having kids. It’s overwhelming becoming a parent no matter.

“But I remember them saying, when Cole was born, now don’t put any assets in his name because, you know, you don’t want to possibly jeopardize some of the benefits, some of the programs, that he would qualify for later on. And in that moment, as overwhelming as it was, it just seemed wrong. Here I am ready to sacrifice. Give this baby give, this child, every opportunity possible. And yet I’m being told now don’t put any assets in his name. So something seemed really wrong.  

“…[Cole is] turning 11 on April 29. I’ve learned don’t put any limits on Cole. He is a very active, enthusiastic fifth grader. He plays basketball. He was reading to me this morning on the Korean War. So he has exceeded all expectations.

“But it was right after Cole was born that I was introduced to the ABLE legislation. It was actually a dad who had thought of this, because as a parent if you have a child with disabilities, the traditional 529 accounts are for saving for, you know, for college for university. But you didn’t really have the flexibility that you needed for a child with disabilities…there’s not really a saving mechanism. The ABLE Act had been proposed by some parents who had come to Congress and we’d like to be able to set money aside tax-free in an ABLE account for our child. And when they get older this would be money that could be used for education, for transportation, for housing — money that could be used to help this child be more independent.

“We worked on this legislation for seven years, so this is just one example of the importance of persistence. In the end, we had a record number of bipartisan support in the House and in the Senate and it was signed into law near the end of President Obama’s administration. Today I’m proud to report that there are more than 17,000 ABLE accounts with $72 million in assets, and nearly every state now has enacted their own version of ABLE because ABLE is really about empowering people.

“That’s why I was so excited not just to get ABLE signed into law but to continue to build upon ABLE. So with the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act that was just signed into law in December we expanded ABLE in two important ways. One related to financial planning.  

“If you were a family who had already established an ABLE account or already established a 529 account and then your child ended up with a disability you’d be able to transfer that money that’s in the 529 account to an ABLE account to give that family more flexibility that they would need…

“The other provision is ABLE to Work. As someone who has a child and is just continuing to walk this journey, I am nearly every day thinking about okay, so now what? What’s Cole going to be able to do when he gets older? What kind of a job is he going to be able to have? Sure, Brian and I are doing everything we can to get him an education and prepare him for living independent, but being able to go explore work is really important.

“Again, for so many with disabilities, they’re fearful that they’re going to lose their benefits even if they go find a part-time job or internship, because the focus for so long has been on qualifying for various programs. ABLE to Work would allow someone with a disability to go explore work, go get an internship, a part-time job, and take that money up to the federal poverty level, $11,400, and put it into an ABLE account without it counting against their benefits. It’s a way to allow that individual to go explore, see what they might be able to do.

“That’s not unusual for anyone. In today’s world, we need more internships more opportunities for young people to go explore work see what their passion is Go explore what the possibilities are. This will allow those with disabilities to have that same opportunity to do so. I’m very excited about what that means. ABLE is just one of the ways that we are looking at transforming the way people view those with disabilities to focus more on the ability. We should do that across the board — focus on someone’s ability and really focus on what they have to offer.

“As you talk to people with disabilities a lot of them feel like they are trapped in poverty and ABLE is a way to actually create policy that is going to empower them. I also wanted to highlight some of the other provisions in the tax bill that are pro-growth, pro-family in addition to the ABLE accounts.

“One is the expansion of the 529 accounts for K-12 education. For that family who may have their children in private schools and are paying for tuition at the K-12 level, now your 529 account that up until December was only for colleges and universities — that’s been expanded now to K-12. That’s an important provision.

“The opportunity zones. This is an important provision within the tax bill that will spur investment in distressed communities. And of course there’s lower rates for all Americans. Here’s just one example, because within the tax bill we eliminated the corporate alternative minimum tax: Premera Blue Cross, which is in my home state Washington state, announced that they were going to be investing $ 40 million in communities across Washington state.

“What that meant was that it was a $1 million for the Hope House in Spokane. I had just recently visited the Hope House. This is a women’s shelter, and the night I was there, it was maxed. They couldn’t bring any more women in. They said every night they are turning women away. And yet this is the place that women go. The Hope House is dedicated to not just providing them shelter but getting them to a place where they are on a different path. They have $1 million now coming their way thanks to the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act and the investment that Premera was able to make in our communities.

“Now let me ask you this: who would you trust more to make a difference for your neighbors in need? Would you trust those here in Washington, D.C., who often see people as numbers on a piece of paper? Or would you trust the people on the ground who can take the action, and are looking those women at Hope House in the eye every night? You know that that money is going to go a lot further as we keep it in the community and trust people to make the best decisions within their communities.

“There’s been so many stories around the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act — utilities that are lowering rates. We held a small business roundtable this week. Speaker Paul Ryan and Kevin Brady, the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, listening to small businesses from a variety of different industries share their stories of the impact of tax reform on them. What was most exciting to me was that they were hopeful again. They were making plans to expand, hiring employees, give more pay increases, invest in their employees. That’s what we want. We want people to be hoping, we want people to be dreaming again…”

“Bottom line, I am a firm believer in federalism — the idea that governing is better done closer to home and trusting people to make those decisions for themselves. So I thank you for being here today an opportunity to hear from you and share some of what we’ve been working on. I do hope that you see the optimism the hope that is coming through an improved economy.

“We had stagnant wages, stagnant growth for years and now you’re starting to see low unemployment, increasing workforce participation rate, businesses that are making decisions to expand. Our goal is to keep that going because that’s the best thing that we can do to empower people — give them a job. A job is so foundational to our lives. And that’s what gives us purpose and dignity.”