The July/August issue of our AchievABLE Newsletter contains stories on the following:
- ABLE Accounts: Building Upon the Promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act
- What the Americans with Disabilities Act Means to Me — My Personal and Professional Perspective: Blog by ABLE NRC Ambassador Pshon Barrett
- Ambassador Highlight: Leah Campbell
- AchievABLE Top 3 Questions: July/August 2020
- ABLE National Resource Center Launches the 2020 #ABLEtoSave Campaign
- #ResilientPwD Text Campaign Promotes Stress Reduction and Financial Resilience for People with Disabilities and Chronic Health Conditions
ABLE Accounts: Building Upon the Promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act
Approximately one in five Americans has a disability. These Americans have the same hopes and dreams to participate in society as everyone else. On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act. President Bush then said, “As the Declaration of Independence has been a beacon for people all over the world seeking freedom, it is my hope that the Americans with Disabilities Act will likewise come to be a model for the choices and opportunities of future generations around the world.”
The American with Disabilities Act requires accessibility for people with disabilities and prohibits discrimination. It extends the promise of equal opportunity and full participation for those people living with a disability.
Full participation includes the opportunity to become economically self-sufficient. Yet, millions of people with disabilities and their families depend on programs such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for food, housing, and other benefits. These programs are restricted to those people who have limited income, resources and savings. Historically, to continue receiving benefits under these and other programs, you cannot save money.
Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts help eligible beneficiaries save and have power over their own money. The funds in an ABLE account are not counted by most federally-funded means-tested benefit programs like Medicaid and SNAP. SSI does not count up to $100,000 in an ABLE account.
Disability-related expenses can lead to financial stress. Savings and contributions made to an ABLE account by the account owner, their family, friends, employer or other sources, can be used for emergencies or to support education and the owner’s future retirement. The funds can also be used for qualified disability expenses including food, housing and maintenance, medical expenses, and expenses related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. ABLE accounts add an additional layer of financial security, especially while navigating an uncertain future.
Over 63,000 individuals—out of an estimated eight million who are eligible—have opened ABLE accounts to date, making ABLE accounts one of the most under-used ways to save money and retain much needed benefits. For many people with disabilities, ABLE accounts have transformed their lives. Read our ABLE Ambassadors stories to learn what motivated them to take advantage of this opportunity and what advice they have for those who have not yet taken this important step.
To learn more about ABLE accounts and state ABLE programs, visit the ABLE National Resource Center (ABLE NRC), managed by National Disability Institute. The website has information on how to become ABLE ready and offers a state ABLE program comparison tool and guidance on setting financial goals. Building on the promise of the American with Disabilities Act, the ABLE Act can forever change lives by providing the opportunity to save money in an easy to open, low-cost, accessible, and tax-advantaged account.
This blog was written by Miranda Kennedy, Director, ABLE National Resource Center for the Social Security Administration (SSA) for the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
What the Americans with Disabilities Act Means to Me — My Personal and Professional Perspective: Blog by ABLE NRC Ambassador Pshon Barrett
This blog was written by 2020 ABLE National Resource Center Ambassador Pshon Barrett in celebration of the ADA’s 30th Anniversary. Barrett is a Senior Associate with the ADA Group, a law firm which specializes in representing claimants under the ADA and IDEA. In this blog, Barrett celebrates the ADA’s positive impact on American society, and reflects on ways that the ADA can be strengthened and updated in order to be more relevant in the digital age.
Ambassador Highlight: Leah Campbell
Leah Campbell first learned about ABLE accounts at the start of last year’s #ABLEtoSave campaign when the Department of Rehabilitation Services referred her to a Benefits Counselor who encouraged her to check out the campaign and learn more about ABLE. Within just a few months, she had not only opened her ABLE account, she became such a strong proponent for ABLE accounts that she also applied to become an ABLE National Resource Center Ambassador. ABLE NRC accepted her application and Leah officially became a 2020 ABLE NRC Ambassador.
“Once I learned about ABLE accounts, I immediately wanted one,” Leah shares. “This is something that was doable. Initially, diving into the #ABLEtoSave campaign, with all of the new terminology and possibilities, was a bit much. I hadn’t listened to or thought about anything financial as a possibility for the last 18 years since becoming paralyzed. My head hurt at first just trying to absorb all of the information. Here it is a year later and there is more I need to know or want to know. I’m definitely glad that I have the opportunity to save.”
Leah is 41 years old and lives in Oklahoma. She has a rare autoimmune disorder called Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO) and began losing her vision at age 10. When she was 22, she became paralyzed. Leah is on Medicare, Medicaid and receives SNAP/food stamp benefits. Her goal is to gain increased independence by paying for housing and assistive technology including an electronic Hoyer lift with scales to replace the manual one that Medicare provided, her next accessible vehicle and other disability-related expenses. In order to meet her goals, Leah has to be able to save more than $2,000 while not losing her benefits. This is where her ABLE account comes in. In fact, she recently started saving $375 more a month in her ABLE account after paying off her current accessible vehicle and depositing it into her ABLE account instead of spending the extra money.
As someone who has an autoimmune disorder, Leah says, “I’m staying in a lot and only engaging virtually during COVID-19 in order to maintain my health.” All of the downtime has given Leah a chance to learn more about ABLE accounts. “It has also given me an opportunity to get ready for next month when my Medicaid and SNAP benefits are up for renewal. When you list your expenses that Medicaid doesn’t cover, if your expenses go over, Medicaid asks if someone helps you pay for those additional expenses. If you say ‘Yes,’ they say that person’s help is countable unearned income.” Leah states that, “Now I can tell them I have an ABLE account I use to cover my expenses beyond what they cover. There is a possibility, as a result of reducing countable resources with an ABLE account, that I may qualify for additional SNAP benefits.”
A member of the Oklahoma chapter of the National Federation for the Blind, Leah is also an Ambassador for Oklahoma for the Sumaira Foundation for NMO. She is also a co-group leader for the Oklahoma Chapter of the Siegel Rare Neuroimmune Association, which serves people with a spectrum of autoimmune disorders.
Leah shares what she has learned about ABLE accounts with these groups and others, telling people, “Open an ABLE account. Don’t think you need to learn all you need to know about it before opening it. You can always transfer to another state’s ABLE program if you need to or make other changes as you move forward.”
AchievABLE Top 3 Questions – July/August 2020
1. Why should I consider putting some or all of the economic stimulus payment into an ABLE account?
An ABLE account can help you save for emergencies or for items or services not covered by benefits. If you don’t need to use the stimulus payment to pay for things right now, you could use some or all of it to start saving today. Your savings grow tax-free and most means-tested benefit programs like Medicaid, food stamps or housing assistance don’t count the savings as a resource. If you receive SSI, any amount over $100,000 in your ABLE account will count towards the resource limit and your monthly payment will be temporarily suspended until you reduce your countable savings below your resource limit. If you have not received your economic stimulus payment, please see updated guidance at: financialresiliencecenter.org.
2. Can an individual have both an ABLE account AND a Special Needs Trust, and can they have both a 529 college tuition account and a 529 ABLE account?
Yes. An individual may have all four types of accounts. All of the accounts have a specific purpose and the use of one of the accounts does not limit the use of the other types of accounts. With ABLE accounts, the account may be used to save and to pay for “qualified disability expenses” (QDEs) which enhance the health, independence or quality of life of a person with a disability. The IRS, which defines QDEs, has said that even basic living expenses like food or shelter are QDEs.
All of the accounts can work together. For example, a Special Needs Trust can contribute up to the annual limit of $15,000 into an ABLE account. And a 529 college tuition account may be used for educational expenses. However, if education is not in an individual’s future, those funds may be rolled over into a 529 ABLE account up to the annual contribution limit each calendar year. Both accounts must have the same beneficiary or be a qualifying member of the beneficiary’s family.
To learn more about rolling over a college savings account to an ABLE account, visit: ablenrc.org/irs-tax-reforms-to-able-accounts-savers-credit-and-529-rollovers/.
3. Can a person who receives SSI to pay for housing and food expenses use their ABLE savings to help pay for grocery expenses that have gone up as a result of COVID-19?
Yes, SSI needs to be used to pay for housing and food. ABLE savings can cover housing and food costs that SSI cannot cover. As of March 2020, the Social Security Administration recognizes food as a basic living expense and an ABLE qualified disability expense. Learn more.
ABLE National Resource Center Launches the 2020 #ABLEtoSave Campaign
August is #ABLEtoSave Month! The campaign, which kicks off on August 3rd, will provide information and resources about ABLE accounts throughout the month. There will be an #ABLEtoSave Scavenger Hunt where winners can be entered in a drawing to win an ABLE account gift card. Together, we can increase awareness of ABLE accounts across the nation and accelerate the opening of accounts across all ABLE programs.
The themes for each week during #ABLEtoSave Month are:
- Week #1: The Promise and Future of ABLE Accounts
- Week #2: ABLE Accounts and Social Security Beneficiaries
- Week #3: Perspectives on ABLE Accounts and Special Needs Trusts
- Week #4: ABLE and Employment Success
Here is what’s happening during #ABLEtoSave Month!
Each Monday, an ABLE to Save podcast will be released featuring individuals from the public and private sectors who will discuss the ABLE Act and ABLE accounts. Visit the podcast page and have a listen!
On each Monday, Wednesday and Friday in August, an #ABLEtoSave Scavenger Hunt* ** question will be posted on the ABLE National Resource Center’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. A link will be provided to a form where you can submit your response. Three individuals with winning answers will be selected on each of the #ABLEtoSave Scavenger Hunt days to win a $50 Gift of Independence gift card which can be used to put money in any individual ABLE account in any state ABLE program.
Find the answer to the posted question. Submit your answer to be entered to win a drawing for a $50 #ABLEtoSave gift card. It’s that simple! Learn more about #ABLEtoSave gift cards and Gift of Independence gift cards..
Have fun and good luck!
*Winners are only eligible to win one $50 #ABLEtoSave gift card during the duration of the #ABLEtoSave Scavenger Hunt. Multiple entries will be disqualified.
**Staff of National Disability Institute, the ABLE National Resource Center and federal agencies are not eligible to win cash gifts.
Help Us Promote #ABLEtoSave Month
Since #ABLEtoSave is a grassroots education and informational campaign, we need your help in promoting #ABLEtoSave Month and the benefits of ABLE accounts for people with disabilities and their families! We have prepared a toolkit with materials relating to the campaign, and we encourage you to distribute these materials through your networks. Access the toolkit.
Other ways you can help promote #ABLEtoSave:
- Always use the hashtag #ABLEtoSave.
- Like, share and tag the ABLE NRC on Facebook (@theABLENRC) and Twitter (@theABLENRC).
- Send us news articles referencing the #ABLEtoSave campaign that appear in your local media.
- Let us know about feedback you receive on the campaign.
Exciting things are happening at the ABLE National Resource Center during #ABLEtoSave Month. Join us!
#ResilientPwD Text Campaign Promotes Stress Reduction and Financial Resilience for People with Disabilities and Chronic Health Conditions
National Disability Institute (NDI), which manages the ABLE National Resource Center, has launched the #ResilientPwD text messaging campaign to deliver information, tips and interventions to people with disabilities and chronic health conditions. The texts, which are available by signing up for a free subscription, will be sent two times per week and are intended to help combat stress and feelings of isolation, build positive thinking and establish new behavior patterns that promote emotional well-being and financial resilience. People can sign up to receive these messages by texting the keyword RESILIENT to 833-632-0273 or by visiting nationaldisabilityinstitute.org/resilientpwd.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for everyone, but particularly for people with disabilities and chronic conditions,” said Elizabeth Jennings, NDI Acting Executive Director. “By launching this text campaign, we will support this population and bring awareness to the importance of taking positive actions to reduce both emotional and financial stress. We are particularly excited to deliver evidence-based interventions, reviewed by people with diverse disabilities, to improve the well-being of people with disabilities and chronic conditions, their families and all who take part in this campaign.”
A select group of individuals with disabilities, including ABLE account owners who serve as ABLE NRC Ambassadors, vetted texts for the #ResilientPwD campaign to ensure that they were helpful, supportive and targeted to the disability community and those with chronic health conditions.
#ResilientPwD will connect to those with no internet access and provide participants with new ways to manage increased stress, anxiety and feelings of isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sign up to receive these messages by texting the keyword RESILIENT to 833-632-0273 or by visiting nationaldisabilityinstitute.org/resilientpwd.