The May/June/July issue of our AchievABLE™ Newsletter contains stories on the following:
- Spotlight on ABLE BIPOC Outreach Ambassador Héctor Ramírez
- Spotlight on ABLE BIPOC Outreach Ambassador Sarah Perez
- Get Ready for #ABLEtoSave Month in August
- AchievABLE™ Top 3 Questions: May/June/July 2021
- ABLE Updates
Spotlight on ABLE BIPOC Outreach Ambassador hÉctor ramÍrez
My name is Héctor Manuel Ramírez. My pronouns are he/they/them. I am Chiricahua Apache Mexican. I am Autistic and I have a psychiatric disability, bipolar disorder and I am hard-of-hearing so I wear hearing aids and use CART and American sign language. I am somebody who is formerly homeless and I am someone who is formerly an institutionalized person. I live with my family here in beautiful Yaanga, Tovaangar. Many of you might know it as Los Angeles, California. These are the ancestral lands of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians.
I am a disability rights advocate serving on the board of directors for Disability Rights California and with the National Disability Rights Network in Washington, D.C. When I’m not working, I co-parent with my sister for my one-year-old niece and two-year-old nephew, so that’s a lot of work. I love gardening and singing with them.
As a person with a disability, I have been on Social Security benefits and I have also had well-paid jobs at various points in my life. Because of my psychiatric disability, sometimes I haven’t been able to work that much. At times, when I have needed benefits, I was not able to access them because I had other money. It created a lot of problems for me. I ended up homeless like many people do in those circumstances here in LA County.
I have a very strong family network though. For almost 10 years I slept on my mother’s dining room floor. She had a one-bedroom apartment. And that is how my family helped me. I couldn’t save money to get an apartment because, if I saved too much money, I would lose my Social Security benefits which would severely impact my disability. It did feel like a punishment and contributed a lot to my mental health problems, the stress and feeling like a burden to my family. The loss of independence was hard for me particularly as a Latino, as a man and as the oldest in my family. It felt really weird and uncomfortable – not that I’m ungrateful – that my family had to take care of me. That caused additional stresses for them that I wish they hadn’t had.
So when ABLE accounts came to California through CalABLE, I opened my account right away. For me, I use my ABLE account as a wellness tool and as a transformational tool in my life. I was able to open it up and, very soon afterwards through donations from friends and family for my birthday, I was able to get enough money to put a down payment on my house. It’s a mobile home, but it’s my home. It’s a two-bedroom, two-bathroom home and I have a whole bedroom with a door and my mother has a room in it as well. We got the keys to my new home on Mother’s Day and I gave them to my mom. That helped me reclaim a lot of what I had lost. Part of what I had lost was my sense of worth and independence because I felt so weird as a person with a disability in a system that kind of penalized me for it. This helped me regain my life.
During the pandemic, I don’t know how we would have fared had we not had this home. Many people in our family contracted the virus, and a few passed due to the virus, including my younger brother. My home became a place where we could take care of family members. My bedroom is where we were able to take care of my brother during his final days. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to do that. I wish that he was here. But we were able to have that home space, my home space, to help him and that is something the ABLE account did for me. It not only changed my life, but the lives of my family for the better.
I want to let you in on a little secret, “Money is Medicine.” It’s not everything, but it is medicine. For people with disabilities oftentimes we haven’t had the privilege to accrue and to develop financial literacy. I wanted to prove that point wrong. When I opened my ABLE account I put $10* into opening it up. I didn’t understand how to use it, and while I was learning about it I was paralyzed at first, but I allowed myself the opportunity to learn, to make mistakes and to enjoy this new thing. It helps me and it helps my community. It’s a healing thing. Anything that we can do to take care of people with disabilities, or for people with disabilities to be able to do to take care of themselves, that is what I’m all about.
To hear more from Hector, check out the archive of our May, Mental Health and the Power of ABLE accounts panel.
*Note: At this time the minimum amount to open an ABLE account in California is $25. The average amount to open an ABLE account with most state ABLE programs ranges between $25 to $50.
Spotlight on ABLE BIPOC Outreach Ambassador Sarah Perez
My name is Sarah Perez, I am 38 years old and live in Jackson in Southern Michigan. I am an artist and volunteer at a local art and history museum and I have had an ABLE account since December 2016 with the MiABLE program. Since 2018, I’ve been an ABLE Ambassador building awareness on the benefits of ABLE accounts for those living with a psychiatric disability. In 2021, my work with the ABLE National Resource Center expanded to helping bring awareness on ABLE accounts to the Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) community as well.
Before I got my ABLE account, my life and financial situation were very much always changing. I have a Bipolar Disorder and was just learning to manage it. I never had funds for anything as I was on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) at first then Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). At those points in time, when I had more money than I was allowed with those benefits, I would have to spend it quickly. I felt like half a person because I couldn’t save for things or make plans for the future like a lot of my peer group. I felt isolated because of my illness.
I first learned about ABLE accounts from my mother who worked for a local community mental health authority. Before she retired, she was talking to a coworker who knew of our situation and suggested ABLE accounts. Since opening my ABLE account, I feel much more in control of my financial situation. I feel more hopeful about my future. I’ve been able to do things like save money for a computer and printer to assist with my art. Additionally, my family feels more secure and hopeful about my future. Now I’m living in a house I am renting from my parents that I am renting to own. My boyfriend James and his dog Tali are living with me and we are starting to build a life together with James and I each paying our share of expenses. I am a volunteer at a local art and history museum, the Ella Sharp Museum. I am active in the local Girl Scouts.
For other members of the BIPOC community, and for those who are living with psychiatric disabilities who are eligible, I want you to know that financial independence can be achieved with the help of an ABLE account. It can be an empowering tool to use to gain self-confidence and financial independence that your family and friends can feel good about contributing to and that can help you have the resources for a good life. And it does all that without jeopardizing your benefits. I felt hopeless and powerless in my own life in a lot of ways before. Now, with the help of my ABLE account, I have a tool to help me take control of my life and future.
ABLE NRC is my number one place for finding information on ABLE accounts. The ABLE Roadmaps (Roadmap to Enrollment and Roadmap to Independence) and the new ABLE Decision Guides are wonderful tools that I only wish had existed when I first opened my account.
To hear more from Sarah about her experience with her ABLE account, check out the archive of our May webinar: Mental Health Awareness Month and the Power of ABLE Accounts.
Get Ready for #ABLEtoSave Month in August
August is #ABLEtoSave Month! This month-long campaign in August will provide information and resources about the ease, use and significance of ABLE accounts for people with disabilities. Together, we can increase awareness of ABLE accounts across the nation and expand the number of people with disabilities who benefit from ABLE programs.
Throughout August, the ABLE National Resource Center will host events and share ABLE tools, including: panels with our BIPOC Outreach Ambassadors, podcasts, informational videos, “Ask an ABLE Account Owner” forums and more!
Themes for this year’s #ABLEtoSave Month will be:
- Week 1: Welcome to #ABLEtoSave Month
- Week 2: Opening an ABLE Account: Keys to Success
- Week 3: Best Practices for ABLE Eligible Individuals and Working Age Adults
- Week 4: Best Practices for ABLE Family Members and Circle of Support
- Week 5: ABLE Account Call to Action: Next Steps to Achieve a Better Life Experience
Stay tuned for more information about #ABLEtoSave Month and ways to get involved!
AchievABLE™ Top 3 Questions: May/June/JULY 2021
1. I did not receive a formal disability diagnosis until after age 26, am I ABLE-eligible?
It is important to understand that many people who now have a mental health diagnosis or post-traumatic stress disorder may have had evidence of their condition prior to age 26, but may not have been determined disabled until later in life. In those circumstances, a person may ask their doctor of medicine, or osteopathy, a doctor of dental surgery or dental medicine, and, for some purposes, a doctor of podiatric medicine, a doctor of optometry or a chiropractor if they will sign a disability certification, indicating that the condition began prior to age 26. (Licensed psychologists, clinical therapists, or certified vocational rehabilitation counselors are not included within 1861(r)(1) of the Social Security Act, and are therefore, not an option.) Any supporting documentation a person has may help the doctor make their decision to sign. Keep a signed disability certification on file should the ABLE plan or Internal Revenue Service (IRS) request a copy.
Examples of qualified disability expenses could include additional counseling sessions, beyond what insurance authorizes, retreats to address stress, peer support conventions, etc.
2. I did not know that a Roth IRA was a countable resource for Medicaid; can I deposit that into an ABLE account?
An IRA, a 403(b) or and 401(k) may be considered a countable resource for means-tested benefits such as Medicaid or SSI. If disbursements are made from those retirement plans, those payments are countable income for means-tested benefits, which may impact eligibility. Disbursements from retirement plans may be considered taxable income, depending upon whether or not they were funded through tax deferred contributions. Many people are choosing to save and invest for their retirement by contributing regularly to their ABLE account.
3. How does a family member access an ABLE account to pay for qualified disability expenses (QDEs) when the ABLE account owner has died?
Each ABLE plan may have different policies and processes regarding QDE end-of-life expenses. It is best to contact your state ABLE plan to take steps now to ensure ABLE funds can be directed to cover QDEs upon the ABLE account owner’s death. Questions to ask include:
- I am an ABLE account owner, parent, guardian, SSA rep-payee, etc…, what steps can I take right now to ensure that the ABLE account will pay for my end-of-life expenses as an ABLE account owner or for the ABLE account owner?
- What written guidance can you share with me, regarding your policies and requirements to ensure funeral and burial expenses and outstanding QDEs are paid from the ABLE account, when the ABLE account owner has died?
Generally, an ABLE plan will request a death certificate and proof of outstanding qualified disability expenses, including death and burial expenses for the ABLE account owner from the primary contact for the ABLE account owner’s estate. After QDEs, including funeral and burial expenses of the ABLE account owner have been paid, Medicaid may request payback for any expenses paid by Medicaid for the ABLE account owner since the date of opening the ABLE account. Many states are taking steps to limit Medicaid payback for their ABLE account owners who select their resident state ABLE plan.
To see your state’s Medicaid payback policy go to: ablenrc.org/state-plan-search/. Select a state and a CSV file will display each state’s ABLE plan’s Medicaid payback policy in column Q, “Medicaid Estate Recovery Status.”
Note: Please contact the state ABLE Plan directly with any questions.
Alabama ABLE Savings Plan: Alabama has launched a new ABLE program account with enhanced features: annual fee lowered to $35, gifting page for friends and family, a new prepaid debit card allowing the owner to load the card and the account may be opened online even if a legal representative is opening the ABLE account.
ABLE Nevada: The Nevada State Treasurer announced that the Treasurer’s Office received its first donation to support Nevada’s first-in-the-nation program to help people with disabilities save for a better future. The Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund contributed $110,000 to support Nevada’s groundbreaking program that will provide seed-funding for people with disabilities to open ABLE accounts.
ABLENow (Virginia): Open to residents of all states. The easiest and most effective way to save is automatically. Customers will receive $25 when they set up an active, recurring contribution of at least $25 that starts before June 30, 2021.
Oklahoma ABLE: Beginning with the 2021 tax year, couples can deduct up to $20,000 in contributions per year from their state taxable income. Single taxpayers can deduct contributions of up to $10,000 per year. The tax deduction for OK STABLE is not only available to individuals with disabilities, it can also be used by friends and family who contribute to an account. As with college savings and IRA deductions, contributions made by the tax filing deadline can be claimed on the previous year’s income tax returns.
MO ABLE (Missouri): Jefferson City has joined Kansas City as the second Missouri city to offer employees the ability to take part in the Missouri ABLE Program. According to State Treasurer Fitzpatrick’s office, Missouri ABLE is one of the largest programs in the country with 2,367 accounts and more than $18 million in assets!
ABLE United (Florida): ABLE United is offering $50 to Floridians who qualify and enroll in a new ABLE United account by June 30, 2021.