October 26th, 2008
05:00 PM ET
14 years ago

Fact Check: Would Obama's tax policy harm people with special needs?

The Statement:
During a speech Friday, Oct. 24, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Gov. Sarah Palin noted that parents of children with special needs often set up trusts to help ensure long-term assistance. "Many families with special needs children or dependent adults" are concerned that Sen. Barack Obama "plans to raise taxes on precisely these kinds of financial arrangements," she said. "They fear that Senator Obama's tax increase will have serious and harmful consequences, and they're right."

Get the facts!

The Facts:
Some parents create special needs trusts in order to help ensure that their children with disabilities or other special needs will have help well into the future, after the parents retire or die. The Federal Citizen Information Center Web site explains that the primary advantage of a trust, rather than a
gift or inheritance, is that the assets are owned by the trust, not the beneficiary. So, funds will be available to the person with special needs, but will not cause that person to be disqualified from the government-run Medicare program. The trust funds typically provide for such things as glasses,
independent checkups, transportation, equipment, training, education, and other programs, the Web site says.

The way most of these trusts are structured, the interest they gain is taxed as part of the parents' income. Palin, in her remarks, suggests that Obama will increase taxes on these trusts in general, thereby reducing the funds in them. The McCain campaign did not respond to requests to explain or comment on the record.

Obama has pledged to increase taxes only on individuals with incomes over $200,000 and families with incomes over $250,000. He is not offering an exception for interest in special needs trusts - that income counts toward the total. So, if someone's taxes go up under Obama, the interest in a trust fund is part of what will be taxed at a higher rate.

But Obama does not have a plan to increase taxes on special needs trusts in general. And Jason Furman, economic adviser for the Obama campaign, noted that Obama has vowed to fix his plan if any individual making less than $200,000 or family making less than $250,000 is left paying higher taxes. So, if Obama's tax plan, unintentionally, forced taxes up on a special needs trust for someone
at a lower income, the tax plan would change, and the person's taxes would not go up, Furman said.

Sen. John McCain is promising across-the-board tax cuts, so no one with a special needs trust would see a tax hike under his plan. As the CNN Truth Squad has reported, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center says Obama's tax cuts would be larger for people in middle and lower income ranges.

Before Palin launched this attack Friday, the McCain campaign told the Wall Street Journal that it was coming. The newspaper, in an article published online Friday, quoted Andy Imparato, president of the nonpartisan American Association of People with Disabilities, saying he has not heard any complaints
from constituents about Obama's tax plan. It was not clear what Palin's evidence was that "many families" were concerned about Obama's plan.

The Verdict:
Misleading. Obama's plan would increase taxes on individuals making more than $200,000 and families making $250,000, and it would include the income on interest in special needs trusts. But Obama does not have a plan to raise taxes on special needs trusts in general.

Filed under: Candidate Barack Obama • Fact Check
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