January 2019 AchievABLE Newsletter

The January issue of our AchievABLE Newsletter contains stories on the following:

Introducing the 2019 ABLE NRC Ambassadors

After a nationwide search, during which we were privileged to hear so many powerful and compelling ABLE stories from scores of ABLE account owners and their family members, we are proud to introduce our 2019 ABLE National Resource Center (ANRC) Ambassadors. Our Ambassadors represent a diverse selection of ABLE programs, types of disabilities, geographic locations, ages, gender, race and ethnicity, along with a wide range of ABLE goals.

The role of our ABLE NRC Ambassadors is to act as national spokespersons, providing a human face to ABLE. During 2019, our Ambassadors will share their knowledge and success using their ABLE accounts with millions of other ABLE-eligible individuals. Our Ambassadors will be using their own lived experiences and personal stories to motivate others to take advantage of the transformative benefits of being an ABLE account owner.

Taylor Carty – Ballard, CA – Individual with Cerebral Palsy

ABLE Program: Pennsylvania
Bio: Recent graduate from U.C., Berkeley with a Bachelor’s in Molecular & Cell Biology. Currently a volunteer and research assistant at Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital in Santa Barbara, CA. ABLE funds are being saved for medical school.

Davinna Christian – Detroit, MI – Parent of son who has quadriplegia and Sickle-Cell disease

ABLE Program: Michigan
Bio: Advocate for children and adults with sickle-cell disease. Son receives Social Security Disability Benefits. ABLE funds are being saved for a communications device, durable medical equipment and an accessible vehicle.

Nathaniel Dykstra – Chandler, AZ – Veteran with Rheumatoid Arthritis

ABLE Program: Michigan
Bio: Retired United States Air Force veteran with a Bachelor’s in Finance and Account Management. ABLE funds are being saved for housing expenses.

Denise Gehringer – Papillion, NE – Parent of an adult son with Down syndrome

ABLE Program: Nebraska
Bio: Assistant Director of Sheltering Tree L’Arche Omaha and member of the National Down Syndrome Advocacy Coalition. Worked on ENABLE program development and her son was the first ENABLE account owner in Nebraska. ABLE funds are for son’s dream of living in his own house with a backyard.

Miles Lessen – Albuquerque, NM – Parent of toddler son with a rare autoimmune disease and Type 1 Diabetes

ABLE Program: New Mexico
Bio: Provides emergency psychiatry in the local VA Hospital Emergency Department and outpatient psychiatry in a VA outpatient clinic. ABLE funds are an investment account for son’s medical, educational and investment needs.

Emily Munson – Indianapolis, IN – Individual with Spinal Muscular Atrophy

ABLE Program: Nebraska
Bio: Disability rights attorney for Indiana’s Protection and Advocacy Agency.
ABLE funds are being saved for durable medical equipment and a down payment on a house.

Hector Ramirez – Canoga Park, CA – Individual with Autism and Bipolar Disorder

ABLE Program: California
Bio: Latino Chiricahua Apache, Two Spirits on the Board of Directors for Disability Rights California and National Disability Rights Network. ABLE funds are being saved to maintain a safety net while working to be self-sufficient.

Amy Tessler – Oakland, CA – Parent of son with Autism

ABLE Program: Ohio (changing to California)
Bio: Works with the Steve Dale/Dale Law Firm as Education and Outreach Coordinator. Son, Scott, is a member of Project Search Team at the Double Tree Hotel in Pleasanton, CA. ABLE funds are being used in coordination with an SNT to maximize and help pay for full share of household expenses.

Shane Wegner – Canadian (Legal U.S. Resident) – Minneapolis, MN – Individual who is blind

ABLE Program: Tennessee
Bio: Law student who is a Senior Accessibility Consultant in Minneapolis, MN for the Target Corporation. ABLE funds are being saved for retirement.

New Webinar: ABLE Accounts and Special Needs Trusts

The purpose of this webinar is to educate individuals with disabilities, their families, providers and advocates on how ABLE accounts and Special Needs Trusts (SNT) can provide options and choices to maintain or improve an individual’s health, independence and quality of life by supplementing services and/or benefits. The webinar will provide case scenarios and address questions such as:

  • What are ABLE accounts and what are the various types of SNTS?
  • Can I have more than one account, and how can I decide if one or both types of accounts are right to meet my needs?
  • What are some strategies or things I should consider?

This webinar will take place on Thursday, January 31, 2019, from 2:00 – 3:30 p.m. ET, and will be moderated by Miranda Kennedy, Director, ANRC. Panelists include:

  • Stephen W. Dale, Esquire, LL.M., The Dale Law Firm, PC
  • Amy Tessler, Education and Outreach Coordinator, The Dale Law Firm, PC and the parent of a child with a disability
  • Marlene Ulisky, Disability Benefits Expert, ANRC

This webinar is part of the ANRC’s ongoing collaborative efforts with the Special Needs Alliance (SNA). The SNA is a national organization comprised of attorneys committed to helping individuals with disabilities, their families and the professionals who serve them with special needs planning.

New Program Launch: California

California State Treasurer John Chiang, State Senator Bill Dodd, ABLE National Resource Center (ANRC) Director Miranda Kennedy and representatives of disability advocacy groups were present today at the launch of CalABLE — California’s new Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) program. CalABLE will allow individuals with disabilities to open tax-advantaged accounts and contribute significantly more than the $2,000 asset limit under many public benefit programs. The event took place in Berkeley, the birthplace of the disability rights and independent living movement.

“We congratulate the state of California for their opening of the CalABLE program, which will offer individuals with disabilities and their families, who are California residents and others nationwide, the opportunity to save and set financial goals that advance their financial stability and independence. For eligible individuals with disabilities and their families, opening and contributing to an ABLE account represents a down payment on freedom,” stated Kennedy of the ANRC, which is managed by National Disability Institute.

“In a season in which so many celebrate life and our highest ideals, we are announcing the long overdue steps California is taking to help individuals with disabilities achieve a better life experience,” Treasurer Chiang, said. “CalABLE will empower people with disabilities to create their own safety net and build wealth because living with a disability should not equate to living a life of poverty.”

Before CalABLE, individuals could be penalized if they maintained more than $2,000 in savings, but CalABLE will end decades of restraints on how much money individuals with disabilities can save without affecting public benefits. Eligible individuals for CalABLE will be able to contribute $15,000 a year, up to a maximum of $529,000, into an ABLE account, while still maintaining benefits such as Medi-Cal and CalFresh. Those who wish to remain eligible for SSI can contribute up to $15,000 annually, to a maximum of $100,000, into an ABLE account without the funds counting as assets.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly seven percent of California’s population under the age of 65 has a disability, suggesting that hundreds of thousands of Californians could benefit from a CalABLE account to pay for the often significant costs of living with a disability.

While CalABLE mirrors the important aspects of the federal ABLE Act, the state legislature made significant improvements to make the program different than ABLE programs offered in other states. Last year, the legislature passed a bill that limits the state’s ability to seek repayment from a CalABLE account after an account holder’s death, for medical care expenses paid during the time they had the account. Additionally, the legislature passed a law that protects CalABLE accounts from money judgments.

The ABLE Act limits eligibility for ABLE accounts to individuals with significant disabilities with an age of onset of disability before turning 26 years of age. They must also either be eligible to receive benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), or have a disability certification that includes a diagnosis by a physician. Generally, those with physical mobility issues, blindness, hearing impairment, some mental health diagnoses and more are eligible.

CalABLE account owners can select how to invest their money and easily schedule deposits and withdrawals right from the new website — www.CalABLE.ca.gov. A CalABLE account can also be managed by a parent, legal guardian, conservator or power of attorney, in the event an account owner is unable to manage their own account. Withdrawals are exempt from federal and state income tax, as long as the contributions are used for qualified disability expenses (QDEs).

Giving and Receiving the Gift of Independence Gift Cards

Thousands of ABLE account owners across the nation save for their futures without losing public benefits. A Gift of Independence gift card is a convenient way to contribute to an ABLE account to honor, celebrate, reward or support a family member, friend, co-worker or a neighbor who has an ABLE account. A Gift of Independence gift card will support them with a payment towards their financial future.

This gift card contribution can only be deposited in a state ABLE program account and be used for transportation, education, housing, assistive technology, employment, medical expenses and other qualified disability expenses. 

To Purchase a Gift Card

  1. Visit the Gift of Independence page.
  2. Disable pop-up blocker in your browser (Pop-up must be allowed to complete your purchase).
  3. Gift card denominations range from $25 to $200.
  4. There is no expiration date for redeeming the funds.
  5. Complete the online form to receive a digital gift card.
  6. Choose to receive your instant link via text or email.

To Redeem a Gift Card

  1. Go to the Gift of College website.
  2. Create a profile:
    1. Enter Name, Address and Phone Number
    2. Enter a Screen Name
    3. Upload a Profile Photo (optional)
    4. Accept “Terms and Conditions”
    5. Click on “Redeem” at the top of the page.
    6. Link Profile to 529 Plan (State ABLE Plan) by selecting plan from dropdown menu.
    7. Gift of College sends the contribution to gift card recipient’s ABLE Plan for deposit into ABLE owner’s account.

Have additional questions? Please contact info@ablenrc.org.

Top Three Questions: January 2019

What are the ABLE savings limits for 2019?

ABLE accounts are protected savings opportunities for people who have a significant disability with an onset prior to age 26. For 2019, friends and family can contribute up to $15,000 directly into an ABLE account. ABLE account owners who work, and do not have an employer-sponsored retirement account, may save up to $12,140 in additional savings from their earnings.

Can I save income within ABLE to reduce my countable income and qualify for more public benefits?

You can save income – both earned and unearned income – or have it directly deposited into an ABLE account. However, it still counts as income and will not qualify you for additional public benefits.

If you are a working beneficiary who receives Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments, there are work supports that can reduce the earnings the Social Security Administration (SSA) counts which may allow you to save more money. To learn more, visit the Ticket to Work website or review the Social Security Red Book.

Unearned income such as a pension, 401K, worker’s compensation payments, unemployment compensation, veteran’s benefits, rental income and child support payments can be deposited into an ABLE account. These income sources also follow the usual income counting rules for the public benefits program and cannot qualify you for additional benefits. Some advisors, however, may suggest a variety of legal, alternative strategies to increase the available funds which can be deposited into an ABLE account. These may include:

  • A divorce decree which stipulates mandatory ABLE account contributions for a minor child with a disability, but no child support payments.
  • The parents of an adult SSI recipient depositing the ‘rent’ received from their adult child into an ABLE account. The adult child receives the full SSI payment because he or she pays their fair share of household expenses to the parents.
  • A special needs trust (SNT) depositing funds into an ABLE account so that the ABLE account can pay for housing expenses. If the SNT pays the housing expenses, the SSI payment would be reduced, but when the ABLE account pays for these expenses the SSI payment is not reduced.

ABLE accounts are a tool to disregard assets or resources, not income. Assets and resources are disregarded for most federally funded means-tested benefits (with one exception related to SSI beneficiaries and only when the account exceeds $100,000). Contributions from family and friends do not count as income when deposited directly into an ABLE account. All income received by the beneficiary still follows usual income counting rules.

Will my ABLE savings affect my HUD housing subsidy?

Savings in an ABLE account are disregarded when determining eligibility for most federally-funded means-tested benefits.

All federal housing support programs are income-based programs and do not have asset limits. While we anticipate that ABLE funds would be excluded from HUD determinations, we are still awaiting guidance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as it relates to housing and ABLE.

If housing expenses are paid from ABLE, it is a best practice to pay the expense the same month the funds are taken out of the ABLE account. This can be done with a debit card or check option and complies with SSI policy.

IRS Issues New Guidance on ABLE Accounts

Last month, the IRS issued new guidance to further explain changes to the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act that resulted from amendments included last year in the major tax reform package: Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. In addition to increasing the amount of contributions annually to an ABLE account from $14,000 to $15,000, an approved amendment to the ABLE Act allows an ABLE account owner to contribute part or all of their earned income to their account above the $15,000 contribution limit.

The additional contribution is limited to the poverty line amount for a one-person household. For 2019, the amount is $12,140 in the continental US, $13,960 in Hawaii and $15,180 in Alaska*. The designated ABLE account beneficiary is not eligible for the additional contribution if their employer contributes to a workplace retirement plan on their behalf.

The IRS news release reminds individuals with disabilities of new ABLE account benefits that, in addition to the opportunity to put more funds into their account from earned income, there is an opportunity to rollover funds from a 529 college savings plan; some individuals may be eligible to qualify for a Saver’s Credit. Read the full IRS release.

National Disability Institute Clarification: The additional contribution limit is based upon the Federal Poverty Level for the prior year for a household of one or the individual’s earnings, whichever is less.

Webinar Archive: Qualified Disability Expense Fundamentals

A recording of Decembers’ webinar, “Qualified Disability Expense Fundamentals,” is now available.