The Special Needs Trust Fairness Act of 2015 was introduced into the U.S. House (H.R. 670) by Representatives Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ). It was also introduced into the Senate (S. 349) by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Bill Nelson (D-FL). A previous version of the bill, The Special Needs Trust Fairness Act of 2013, failed to become law in the previous session of Congress.
Special needs trusts (SNTs), also called a supplemental trust, were established by Congress in 1993 to help individuals with disabilities remain eligible for means-tested government benefit programs like Medicaid, even if they get a cash insurance settlement or an inheritance, etc. that would otherwise disqualify them from these means-tested programs. The general rule is that the SNT cannot pay for food, clothing or shelter because Social Security Income is designed to pay for that. However, the SNT can pay for “supplemental needs” like: physical therapy, medications, medical treatment, transportation, education, furniture, etc. Also, no direct payments to the beneficiary are allowed.
Also under current law, an SNT can only be established by a parent, grandparent, legal guardian or court. Supporters of the Special Needs Trust Fairness Act of 2015 hope to change that by adding the words “the individual” to the beginning of that list.
Supporters of this bill say that individuals with disabilities should be allowed to establish their own SNT if they are otherwise competent and capable of doing so. In a case where the individual has no parent, grandparent or guardian, it is an undo hardship to have to petition a court and an undue burden on the court system. Also, supporters argue that this bill corrects an almost certain oversight when the law was drafted.
Supporters of the bill include: the National Council of Elder Law Attorneys (NEALA), the Academy of Special Needs Planners (ASNP) and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD).
Mark Perriello, the President and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), the nations largest disability rights organization, endorses the bill, saying, “The AAPD strongly supports the SNT Fairness Act of 2015 because the legislation eliminates discrimination against people with disabilities in creating special needs trusts and therefore promotes our self-sufficiency and independence”.