June 2019 AchievABLE Newsletter

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

New Webinar: ABLE: Myths vs. Facts

June 20, 2019 – 2:00 – 3:15 p.m. ET

Millions of individuals with disabilities live in poverty and depend on a variety of means-tested public benefits for income, healthcare, food and housing assistance. Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts, which stem from the passing of the ABLE Act in December 2014, largely do not affect most federally-funded, means-tested benefits.

Some individuals with disabilities and their families may be reluctant to open an ABLE account for fear of losing public benefits, and there are many myths surrounding this and other ABLE account topics. The purpose of this webinar is to dispel these myths!

This webinar will address:

  • Myths vs. facts surrounding ABLE account eligibility, enrollment and contributions
  • Myths vs. facts on how an ABLE account affects public benefits
  • Facts on how tools, such as Special Needs Trusts and 529 rollovers, may be used

This webinar will be moderated by Miranda Kennedy, Director, ABLE National Resource Center (ABLE NRC). Panelists include:

  • Laurie Schaller, Manager of Financial Empowerment, National Disability Institute
  • Marlene Ulisky, Disability Benefits Expert, ABLE NRC
  • ABLE Ambassadors and parents of ABLE Ambassadors

ABLE NRC Ambassador Highlight: Davinna Christian

Meet our ABLE NRC Ambassador, Davinna Christian, whose 20-year-old son, Dushon, is graduating from high school on Friday, June 14, 2019!CONGRATULATIONS, DUSHON!

Dishon's Graduation PhotoJust like most parents, Davinna is looking forward to celebrating this milestone with Dushon. This is an even more important milestone since Dushon has Sickle-cell disease (a blood disorder) that resulted in a series of strokes that left him with a significant disability at age 11. Dushon now uses a motorized wheelchair and communication devices and will need costly personal care support and other disability services throughout his life. This is where his ABLE account comes in. Dushon’s graduation announcement includes a link for cash gifts to his MiABLE account, a concept that Davinna learned about from other parents of ABLE account owners. Dushon’s graduation party is Saturday, June 15th, and Davinna will be using this opportunity to both celebrate and help further educate their family and friends (e.g. their “Circle of Support”) about ABLE and how they can contribute to Dushon’s financial support and future needs with ABLE.

Davinna says it best, “ABLE was the answer to five out of six of the problems I have had as a parent. When you deal with a disability from birth I think it’s easier because, at 11 years old, there are all of these things you have to apply for that you never knew existed before. My son had a bank account that we opened for him when he was five years old. As you talk to people at SSA (Social Security Administration) – they say you can only do this or that. For SSA and others to help my child, he could not have any of those assets.” Davinna explained that this news created a huge dilemma, “Can I never save money for Dushon? Now that he’s in a wheelchair and needs these services, now I’m stuck. There was no ABLE account back then. The only thing people could tell me was to set up an SNT (Special Needs Trust), but you need three to five-thousand dollars to set up an SNT and I didn’t have that.”

Davinna and her son Dishon smilingFor Davinna, being able to open an ABLE account for Dushon has made all of the difference. She states, “ABLE solved so many problems. It seems small, but it’s so big! The MiABLE program has a debit card. I don’t have to wait for money to come and transfer to the bank account. It has helped to solve the stress.”

Dushon is getting older – having just turned 20 – and has grown a lot recently. This means it’s time to get a bigger wheelchair. This is one of many challenges that Davinna and Dushon have faced that ABLE has helped them to address. Davinna broke down her thought process, “When you have to have a customized wheelchair that is going to cost $15,000 or $20,000, what am I going to have to pay after insurance pays or when insurance doesn’t cover certain things? What happens when he comes of age and has to access his own money?”

Davinna found that ABLE was the solution to many of her concerns as a parent. “They [transition age youth with disabilities] have to have their own account when they come of age. As a parent of any child, disabled or not – you want them to be successful and know that if anything happens to you, they have a safety net. My focus changed from saving for college once Shon had his disability. The ABLE account has allowed me to relax and not worry about how saving money will impact the benefits he needs. This (Dushon’s MiABLE account) will take care of whatever needs he has. I can relax and take a breath. That is real.”

ABLE Account, Special Needs Trust and Pooled Trust Comparison Chart

Individuals who work and receive Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or other public benefits may find it difficult to save money and still maintain their benefits. This is especially important for “means-tested” benefits, i.e., benefits in which income and countable resources of more than $2,000 are considered when determining eligibility.

Protected savings accounts make it possible for individuals to have savings/resource limits greater than $2,000 and still maintain eligibility for benefits such as Medicaid, SSI and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This fact sheet provides basic information on three options for establishing protected savings accounts: ABLE, Pooled Trust and Special Needs Trust (first and third party). This chart contains a comparison tool to help determine which option(s) best meet the needs of an individual.

ABLE Account, Special Needs Trust, Pooled Trust Comparison Chart

Mississippi Becomes 42nd State to Launch ABLE Program

The ABLE National Resource Center (ABLE NRC), managed by National Disability Institute (NDI), is excited to congratulate the state of Mississippi on being the most recent state to launch an ABLE program on June 2, 2019. Named “Mississippi ABLE,” this newest state ABLE program is a member of the National ABLE Alliance. Mississippi will be administered by the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services and managed by Ascensus College Savings Recordkeeping Services, LLC. Mississippi ABLE Accounts will offer enrollment to all ABLE-eligible individuals regardless of residency.

The Mississippi ABLE program will allow qualified individuals with disabilities to save up to $15,000 a year in an ABLE account without jeopardizing their eligibility for federally-funded, means-tested benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid. The funds in these accounts can be used for disability-related expenses that assist the beneficiary in increasing and/or maintaining his or her health, independence or quality of life.

The Mississippi ABLE program has an initial contribution fee of $50 within the first 60 days of opening the account, and each account is charged a monthly account maintenance fee of $3.75. This monthly fee may decrease as enrollment in the program increases. Fees associated with investment options range from 0.34% – 0.38%. There is a debit card/purchasing card available with the Mississippi ABLE program, and there are no fees associated with the debit card. 

For more information on the Mississippi ABLE program and how to enroll, please visit https://www.mdrs.ms.gov/Pages/able-act.aspx

To see how the Mississippi ABLE program compares to other programs, we encourage you to check out our ABLE program comparison tool, found at the following link: http://www.ablenrc.org/state_compare/

Top Three Questions: June 2019

Who is eligible for an ABLE account?

A person of any age, who has a significant disability onset prior to age 26, can open an ABLE account. This includes infants, youth, college students and working or retired adults. People who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Disabled Adult Child (DAC) benefits, or people who never received SSI and/or SSDI and people who work and no longer receive SSI and/or SSDI, may also be eligible. Other eligible individuals may include people who have a guardian or representative payee, people who live in the community, in foster care or a residential group home for individuals with disabilities, people who have Section 8, a housing subsidy or own their own home or seniors who live in an assisted living facility or are in hospital care.

Individuals who never received SSI and/or SSDI, or who began receiving benefits after age 26, need to request a Disability Certification from their physician (M.D. or D.O.) indicating that the significant disability onset was prior to age 26. Any supporting information will help the physician make their decision. For information on how to open an ABLE account, visit the Roadmap to Enrollment.

I receive SSI and SSA is asking for proof of what I spent my ABLE savings on. How do I do that?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) may ask ABLE account owners who receive SSI to prove that they use their SSI to pay for housing and food. ABLE funds can be used to pay for extra housing expenses when SSI is not enough to cover all housing costs. Get a receipt for every item paid for or purchased using ABLE funds. Keep those receipts on file for at least three calendar years.

ABLE funds may only be used on qualified disability expenses (QDE) which increase the health, independence or quality of life of the ABLE account owner. As a best practice and to avoid issues with public benefits, ABLE funds should not be used to reimburse someone who lent the ABLE account owner money. Learn more about monitoring your account by visiting How Do I Manage My Account?

Summer is here. Can I use ABLE funds to go on a vacation or to camp? What is a qualified disability expense?

Qualified disability expenses (QDE) are expenses for items or services related to the blindness or disability of the beneficiary that assists him/her in increasing and or maintaining their health, independence and/or quality of life. If the vacation or camp expense meets this definition, it may be a QDE.

Paying for a vacation is a gray area for ABLE. If ABLE funds are used to pay a personal care assistant who accompanies an ABLE account owner on the vacation, the personal care assistant’s wages are QDEs. If a student has an individualized education plan (IEP) that includes developing money management and socialization skills, a trip to Disney World may be a QDE. If a camp or vacation program is designed specifically for people with a disability, those expenses would be QDEs.

If a person wants to go on a vacation but is not sure if those expenses are QDEs, they could use their extra SSI, SSDI or other income to pay for their vacation, rather than using ABLE savings. Remember to pay for food from another source, rather than using ABLE funds, since food is also a gray area for ABLE funds and QDEs. Check out the Case Summary Series to learn more about QDEs.

Webinar Archive: Maximizing ABLE Accounts: Presented by the National STABLE Account Plan

A recording of May’s webinar, “Maximizing ABLE Accounts: Presented by the National STABLE Account Plan,” is now available.