Hall takes ABLE Act cause to State Capitol

By Jason A. Smith
Times Correspondent

Jordan Hall of McDonough said she was glad to do her part to help people with disabilities to have the same opportunities as everyone else.

“I think when people hear a person’s diagnosis, they immediately go to the worst-case scenario,” said Hall, 22. “That’s detrimental to people like me because that creates a stigma. We have a desire to be contributing members of society. When people go to the worst-case scenario, they automatically think that we don’t have goals or dreams that we’re capable of achieving.”

Governor Nathan Deal posed for a photo with disability rights advocates on ABLE Act Advocacy Day. Jordan Hall (front right) testified in front of state legislators on the new law, which allows for the contribution of funds to tax-exempt accounts to pay for qualified expenses of people with disabilities. Jordan is a 2013 graduate of Ola High School. Special photo

Hall, who has cerebral palsy, recently testified before state legislators regarding HB 768, the Georgia ABLE Act.

The ABLE acronym stands for “Achieving a Better Life Experience.” The new law allows for the contribution of funds to tax-exempt accounts to pay for qualified expenses of people with disabilities.

Hall graduated from Ola High School in 2013 and is currently a senior at Georgia State University. She said prior to the ABLE Act, the state’s disabled population had more hurdles to overcome than just those presented by their physical limitations.

“If you’re a person that is considered disabled, you’re only allowed to have $2,000 in your bank account,” said Hall. “This includes money that you’ve earned. So, let’s say you have a job where you earn over $2,000 -- you would immediately lose your benefits. This would affect everyone. That’s why it’s so important. If it was just me, I probably wouldn’t have said as much.”

But, saying something is exactly what Hall did. She testified in front of the State House of Representatives in January, and before the State Senate in March. Hall recounted her own struggles to convey how hard it is for people with disabilities to survive financially when they have other expenses to worry about.

“It’s hard for anyone, disabled or not, to live on $2,000,” she said. “For me, I rely on a nurse to come and get me ready in the morning and help me get ready for bed in the evening. Medicaid currently covers that expense for me, but if I made over $2,000, Medicaid would stop covering the expense, and I wouldn’t be able to afford it. Currently, Medicaid doesn’t even cover 24 hours’ worth of services. They have programs that you can sign up for, but for people who are on the waiting list, it takes up to 10 years to get off the waiting list.”

Hall said her connections in state government helped to give her a chance to address state legislators earlier this year. At the time of her initial testimony, she was doing an internship with State Sen. David Shafer.

Hall recalled being nervous about the experience, adding that Shafer sits on a finance committee she was testifying in front of at the time.

“Because I was an intern, I had to get approval from Sen. Shafer,” Hall said. “People in his office were there. When I saw that they were all there, I was shaking in my boots.”

However, Hall said legislators “seemed very receptive” to her concerns, and demonstrated solid support for the bill. The ABLE Act was passed on March 31, and Gov. Nathan Deal signed the bill into law on May 4.

“I actually got to see the governor sign the bill,” said Hall.

Hall recently completed an internship at a nonprofit agency and is currently working from home in a customer-service position. She hopes to pursue law school after graduation, and said each advocate for the ABLE Act “played a crucial part” in getting it passed.

“I think I was part of a movement,” said Hall. “I know that some people say there’s still so much progress that needs to be made for disability rights. And yes, there is progress to be made, but small steps lead to giant leaps, and the ABLE Act is the first step in the right direction.”