Class of 2021 First-Year Fellow: Justin Kramer

As a First-Year Fellow, Justin Kramer ’21 interned at the National Disability Institute under the mentorship of Michael Morris P’08 & ’14. The following is an excerpt from his final report.

This summer, I got the opportunity to spend my summer working at the National Disability Institute (NDI). Despite its far-reaching name, NDI focuses on financial empowerment and wellness, economic self-sufficiency, and employment for people with disabilities in effort to mitigate the massive, crippling additional costs of having a disability. Having done more of the hands-on work with disability in the past at a disability baseball program, I was excited to look at disability through the lens of policy. My expectations were greatly exceeded.

My fellowship primarily centered around the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014, which enabled states to establish tax-advantaged savings accounts for people with disabilities similar to 529 College Savings Accounts. Investment on these “ABLE Accounts” grows tax free and, most important, individuals can exceed the $2000 asset limit in savings without losing eligibility for vital programs such as Medicaid and Social Security Income. ABLE Account owners can then choose to spend their money on a wide variety of qualified disability expenses (housing, transportation, wheelchairs, healthcare, etc.) and reach a greater level of autonomy and escape poverty. I helped collect data on cosponsors of the ABLE Act and its amendments while writing the descriptions for new state ABLE programs.

For the last six weeks of my internship, I travelled to the Hill often three times per week to lobby Senate staffers on the ABLE Age Adjustment Act. Despite overwhelming bipartisan support for the original ABLE bill, Congress instituted a last-minute ABLE Account requirement of disability onset before age 26 in an effort to lower the cost with the promise to later raise the age. My job was to make sure Congress followed up on that promise by pushing them to cosponsor an age increase to 46, so that the program could be more equitable for all people with disabilities and more sustainable by increasing the pool of eligible individuals. My supervisor and NDI’s Director of Public Policy, Chris Rodriguez, joined me at the first meeting but sent me in his stead to the other fifteen or so meetings thereafter. By the last meeting, I was able to lead a successful lobbying meeting in Sen. Menendez’s (D-NJ) Office with another college intern. These meetings were the consistent highlights of my week.

All in all, this summer was a transformative experience. I would be remiss not to thank the Rockefeller Center, who made this experience possible.