Written by Pshon Barrett, Esq. — 2020 ABLE NRC Ambassador
I have followed disability issues for many years due to a professional and personal interest in the subject. I was thrilled when the ABLE Act was signed into law in 2015 because I knew that it would provide a much needed savings vehicle for people with disabilities and their families without the financial limitations placed on the receipt of public assistance, but more importantly, enhance the lives of people with disabilities by providing an opportunity for them to achieve greater financial and personal independence.
As I watched other states adopt their ABLE programs, I anxiously waited for Mississippi to formulate its ABLE plan, which became effective in June, 2019. I had the privilege to be a part of the press conference at the Mississippi State Capitol as ABLE was being launched in Mississippi. However, it wasn’t until after I opened my MS ABLE account that I learned that I could have opened my account earlier in another state’s program before Mississippi’s program was established. Therefore, because of my lack of knowledge about an important aspect of the program, I missed out on several years of the opportunity to save and grow my own account.
As a fulltime employee with an ABLE account, one of the most attractive advantages that my State, Mississippi, provides to State residents, is that contributions to an ABLE account are tax deductible for individuals or others who contribute to a person’s ABLE account. This provision gives contributors a tangible incentive to save and to assist others. If you are considering opening an ABLE account, ask your ABLE program directors about the tax advantages associated with ABLE accounts.
ABLE accounts provide a unique advantage over a regular savings or investment account due to the fact that funds grow Federal tax free, and most states provide a range of investment options suitable to a person’s life situation or risk tolerance level. The longer I invest in my ABLE account, the more I’m sure I will appreciate this benefit.
As a person who is blind, I have really enjoyed privately and independently accessing my ABLE account without needing assistance from a sighted person. The MS ABLE website was designed to work with screen reading software which means that I can check a balance, view and conduct transactions and other functions on the website. With the exception of a couple of small access issues, I have been able to fully use the website as it was intended. This means that I can interact with the online features of my account without relying on someone to read to me, thereby, giving another person access to personal financial information.
As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the employment rate and, therefore, the economic status of people with disabilities have not seen an appreciable increase. Too many of our fellow members of the disability community are still having to choose between living in poverty and relying on public assistance or venturing into the world of work and grappling with inadequate transportation and healthcare as well as technological, architectural and attitudinal barriers. For some, that risk is justifiably too great. For others, an ABLE account can provide the financial security and assets that are needed to independently pursue a vocation which would not be possible without the funds to pay for housing, training and transportation. Until you have lived with a disability, you do not realize all the hidden costs associated with disability. People who have achieved some level of success know from experience that no Government agency or employer will or should be expected to pay the cost of needed technology, personal assistive devices, attendant assistance, transportation, home modifications or additional health care expenses.
During these times of economic and job insecurity, caused by the health crisis of COVID-19, it is more important than ever that the disability community begins to brace for the possibility that the assistance benefits and programs on which we have relied may be altered or diminished, thereby, increasing our necessity to rely on private funds to fill in the gaps. As our society has tried to adapt to the many economic and social changes brought on by COVID-19, the disability community has been especially hard hit due to a decline in available transportation, the need for assistance which is difficult to get while physically distancing, increased social isolation and the increased reliance on internet platforms which may be inaccessible to people using screen reading software or other specialized access methods. Due to the broad definition of Qualified Disability Expenses (“QDE”) under ABLE, people with disabilities can use ABLE funds to pay for basic living expenses during these very difficult economic times.
As we reflect on the early stages of ABLE implementation, there are efforts to improve and strengthen the legislation and efforts to improve the administration of State programs. Therefore, it is incumbent upon ABLE account holders and potential account holders to promote this benefit and take full advantage of what it has to offer.
About the Author
Pshon Barrett is a Sr. Associate with the ADA Group, a law firm which specializes in representing claimants under the ADA and IDEA. Previously, she served for over 35 years as an Assistant U. S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi where she focused on ADA enforcement as well as general civil and financial litigation cases. Pshon holds a B. A. degree from MS State University, a M. A. from Reformed Theological Seminary in Marriage and Family Therapy and a J. D. from the University of MS School of Law. Pshon is a 2020 Ambassador for ABLE NRC and is an enthusiastic ABLE account holder. She is a member of the MS Bar Lawyers and Judges Assistance Committee and a member of the Board of Directors of the American Association of Visually Impaired Attorneys. Her hobbies and interests include reading, current events, Bible study, adaptive computer technology, piano and vocal music, investing, fitness and spending time with friends. Pshon has been blind from birth and resides in Jackson, MS.