September 2019 AchievABLE Newsletter

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

New Webinar: ABLE Program Spotlight – ABLE Collaboration

September 19, 2019 at 2:00 pm ET

Throughout 2019, the ABLE National Resource Center (ABLE NRC) will be conducting a series of bi-monthly “ABLE Program Spotlight” webinars. These webinars are intended for those who already have a basic understanding of ABLE. State ABLE programs that are a part of multi-state collaborations, as well as individual state programs, will provide program-specific details, general guidance and best practices. Each program spotlight will also cover the range of investment options offered, an often-confusing aspect for individuals who want to make the most of their ABLE account, but are new to the concepts of investing and saving.

In September, we will showcase the ABLE Collaboration which is comprised of the Oregon, Maryland, Washington State and ABLE for ALL Savings Plans. They offer high-quality, low-cost ABLE savings and investment plans which are available to eligible individuals nationwide.

Objectives:
• Maximize your ABLE account
• Help you better understand investment options and how they can work for you
• Become familiar with the ABLE Collaboration and the advantages of the partner state model
• Learn about the ABLE Collaboration program features
• Hear what participants have to say
• Questions and answers

Facilitator:
• Miranda Kennedy, Director, ABLE NRC

Presenters:
• David Bell, Oregon ABLE Savings Plan & ABLE for ALL Savings Plan
• Kelly Nelson, Maryland ABLE Savings Plan
• Peter Tassoni, Washington State ABLE Savings Plan

REGISTER

ABLE NRC Ambassador Highlight: Emily Munson

Emily Munson is a 35-year-old disability rights attorney with Indiana’s Protection and Advocacy agency. She is also an ABLE account owner and champion for ABLE accounts for other working-age people with disabilities who, like herself, can use these tax-advantaged savings accounts to cover qualified disability expenses and “Achieve a Better Life Experience.”

Emily Munson picture at the beachIn her role at the Protection and Advocacy Agency, Emily leads the employment team. She teaches people with disabilities, their family members and support teams about leveraging work incentives to develop their market power as working people with disabilities who have money to spend. Emily practices what she preaches, or, perhaps more appropriately, puts her money where her mouth is, by doing the Protection and Advocacy work that she loves, while living a life filled with international travel and cultural, gastronomic adventures that feed her foodie soul! This includes traveling and exploring mouth-watering menus in Morocco, sampling the local cuisines in Iceland and Brazil and planning a trip to Costa Rica next year.

Beyond her paycheck and benefits she receives as an attorney and employee of Indiana, Emily accesses the additional resources and supports that she needs to live, work and travel with her disability. These resources and supports include her state’s Medicaid Waiver and – importantly — her ABLE account. Emily says if ABLE accounts had been available years ago she would have been able to put money from the SSI checks she used to receive into her account and pay off her grad school loans years earlier. Emily’s current goals with her ABLE account are to 1) be able to save for long-term goals such as building a wheelchair accessible home of her own and to 2) cover qualified disability expenses such as personal care attendant support during the travel adventures that she embarks on with her favorite disability touring adventures company.

Group photo of Emily Munson with tour group and camels in MoroccoEmily says that what frustrates her when the conversation turns to ABLE is that there just aren’t that many people taking advantage of ABLE accounts yet. She reports that, from her experience, she sees a lot of misconceptions about the ABLE Act, ABLE programs and how an ABLE account can be used. “I speak to people all the time who complain about not wanting to lose benefits, or who only want to work part-time. I don’t understand why those people aren’t opening ABLE accounts. I think it’s because there are still a lot of misconceptions about them, like that you need a lot of money – like in a Special Needs Trust – to open one. That’s just not true. Even if people don’t have a lot to put in their account, that money adds up over time.”

When asked what her ultimate advice to others would be, Emily says: “OPEN AN ABLE ACCOUNT! It could be beneficial to you. It’s actually a way for people with disabilities to earn interest (on contributions). Even if it’s just $20 deducted from SSI (Supplemental Security Income) or your paycheck every month, it can lead to financial independence over time.”

Senate Hill Briefing Makes Compelling Case for ABLE Age Adjustment Act

To build momentum for S. 651, the ABLE Age Adjustment Act, and to urge lawmakers to move this critical measure through the U.S. Senate, the National Association of State Treasurers (NAST), in collaboration with National Disability Institute (NDI), the Student Veterans Association and the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), held a staff briefing on the Senate side of the Capitol on July 30. The successful event drew more than 80 attendees from Senate offices, consumers, representatives of disability advocacy organizations and key Hill staff with primary responsibility for moving the legislation forward.

Katherine Beck, widow of Stephen Beck Jr., the namesake of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, movingly recounted her family’s struggle to achieve and maintain economic self-sufficiency and their motivation to fight for policy change. In addition, attendees heard the compelling story of Dan Standage, a young veteran who acquired his non-service connected disability after the age of 26. Dan’s personal account of the difficulties of earning and saving for one’s future, and his plea to Congress that the ABLE Act’s age of disability onset provisions be changed to allow veterans and others like himself, whose disability did not begin before age 26, to have the opportunity to open ABLE accounts, was met with resounding applause.

Advocates across the country are urged to continue to reach out to your two U.S. Senators and your House of Representatives member to ask for their co-sponsorship of S. 651, and H.R. 1814, the ABLE Age Adjustment Act.

SSA Updates Youth Transition Resource

This month, the Social Security Administration (SSA) sent notices to over 347,000 Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients between the ages of 14 and 17, and to their adult representatives, to assist them in identifying resources to help them transition to adulthood. SSA included Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts in their updated pamphlet, “What You Need to Know About Your Supplemental Security Income (SSI) When You Turn 18,” as one of the recommended resources, and they included the ABLE National Resource Center website as a source for more information. SSA reiterated the fact that up to and including $100,000 in an ABLE account does not count as a resource under SSI rules.

The publication, which is available in English and Spanish, helps youth prepare for the transition from school to adult life. It provides information about SSI work incentives that primarily affect youth, as well as information about common programs, services and supports, including ABLE, that may be helpful.

Download English

Download Spanish

Top Three Questions: September

1. Could GoFundMe affect my Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits? How is an ABLE account different?

Yes. In general, the Social Security Administration (SSA) counts crowdfunding, like GoFundMe donations and contributions in the name of an SSI beneficiary, as gifts. Those monies are considered unearned income and the SSI payment is reduced. For more information on the SSA definition of a gift and a gift as income, read SI 00830.520A1 and A2.

When SSA is deciding whether crowdfunding affects SSI payment, ownership of the account is crucial. When the account is owned by the SSI recipient or a deemor (parent or spouse of the recipient), contributions and donations are counted at the earliest time possible: when funds are received, when they are credited to the person’s account or when the money is set aside for use.

Contributions made directly into an ABLE account from family, friends, a Special Needs Trust (SNT) or a Pooled Trust are not countable income for SSI recipients. Therefore, contributions received this way do not reduce SSI. ABLE savings can be saved or spent on Qualified Disability Expenses (QDE), which include housing costs.

2. If you receive SSI, what is the best way to pay for Qualified Disability Expenses (QDE) from your ABLE account?

The SSI payment is intended to provide for basic needs such as food and shelter/housing. As a best practice and as a priority, a person who receives SSI should pay for their food and housing expenses with their SSI. Any remaining SSI can be deposited into an ABLE account. Here are some other suggestions and best practices:

  • It is important to keep receipts for your purchases made with ABLE funds in a folder for the calendar year. Keep receipts for at least three years in case of an IRS audit.
  • It is easier to track spending and keep receipts if you make purchases using an ABLE debit card or a check, or if you pay bills from an ABLE account. If your ABLE account does not offer a debit card or checking account, you could transfer your savings into another personal account to make a purchase. Just be certain that you can identify these funds in case you are asked to show that the funds came from your ABLE account to ensure they are not counted as a resource.
  • If you are going to pay for housing or housing-related expenses from your ABLE account, it is important to pay for the expenses within the same month you take the funds out of your ABLE account. Otherwise, those ABLE funds will be counted as a resource by means-tested programs such as SSI and Medicaid. Setting up automatic bill payment on a specific date may make it easier to pay monthly bills.

3. Can you provide examples in which SSA would ask me for proof of an ABLE account distribution?

SSA only asks for proof of distribution when all or part of it is retained into the month or months following the month the funds were received. SSA only asks this to determine if it will be counted as a resource since distributions do not count as income.

SSA asks for proof of the amount, distribution date and recipient. Here is how they count it:

  • They will not count any distribution which will be used for a non-housing related expense.
  • They will count any distribution related to housing if it is retained into the month or months following receipt.
  • They will count a previously excluded distribution used for a non-QDEs, or for housing that is not spent in the month withdrawn from ABLE, as of the first moment in which the funds were spent for the non-QDEs.
  • If the intended usage of a previously excluded distribution changes to a non-QDE or if it is to be used for housing, it is counted as of the first moment of the month following the month when the intent changed, even if funds are unspent.

August #ABLEtoSave Webinar Archives

Recordings of all five webinars in the #ABLEtoSave series are now available.

View the archives

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