The September/October issue of our AchievABLE™ Newsletter contains stories on the following:
- October Is National Disability Employment Awareness Month
- Register to Participate in a Live Panel of Working ABLE Account Owners
- Hear from Working ABLE Ambassadors:
- AchievABLE™ Top 3 Questions on ABLE and Employment
- ABLE Employment Resources
- ABLE Employment Advocacy
- Social Security News Alert
- IRS Tax Tip
- ABLE Plan Updates
October Is National Disability Employment Awareness Month
October 1st marks the start of National Disability Employment Awareness Month! This year’s theme is “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion.”
In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), ABLE National Resource Center (ABLE NRC) is highlighting this important observance via podcasts, blogs, spotlights and a live panel of our working ABLE account owners and how ABLE accounts are supporting their employment goals.
In addition to ABLE NRC’s live panel during NDEAM, we encourage you to follow #NDEAM-related activities this month from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) on social media.
NDEAM Presidential Proclamation
President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. issued “A Proclamation on National Disability Employment Awareness Month, 2021.” In the proclamation, President Biden reflects on the progress made in recent decades to include people with disabilities in employment and community life, but notes that more remains to be done to resolve the inequities that still exist. “National Disability Employment Awareness Month is a chance for us to celebrate workers with disabilities and recommit ourselves to dismantling barriers to access and inclusion in the workplace,” said President Biden.
Join our Live Panel of Working ABLE Account Owners on Tuesday, October 19 from 2pm-3:30pm ET
Join us during National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) for a live 90-minute panel discussion featuring working ABLE account owners. Our panelists will share their experience using an ABLE account to support their employment. Be sure to check out the resources below in this newsletter below to take full advantage of this opportunity! Register to participate and send any questions in advance to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: #NDEAM Working ABLE Panel.
NDEAM Podcasts on ABLE and Employment
The ABLE NRC is pleased to announce new podcast episodes as a part of our efforts to highlight National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2021.
These podcasts bring insights, projections and analysis from ABLE account owners engaged in developing vocational goals and pursuing career paths. Each podcast features resources and strategies to increase ABLE account ownership and improve the quality of life for ABLE-eligible individuals with disabilities and their families.
Building Financial Independence with an ABLE Account, Employment and Education
Featured Guest: Taylor Carty, ABLE account owner
Taylor Carty is a graduate of the University of California with a B.A. in Molecular and Cell Biology. She is currently working at the Burton Blatt institute as a research assistant. As someone with cerebral palsy, Taylor is using her ABLE account to navigate the financial challenges of applying for medical schools and working a full-time job.
“My ABLE account has been a lifesaver and helped me to build my own future.” – Taylor Carty
Building Your Financial Future with an ABLE Account
Featured Guest: Chris Peterson, ABLE account owner
In a successful career as a software developer, Chris Peterson has learned a great deal about managing his finances. In 2020, he decided to make it his mission to teach other blind people some of the things he had to learn the hard way. Knowing he could not do it alone, he began building Penny Forward, a community of people who are blind, who share his interest in financial independence. In this podcast, Chris shares his perspective on the impact and opportunity that ABLE accounts present to working people with disabilities.
“It is very powerful to start now. The earlier you start in investing, the more your investment has time to grow before you might need to use it to weather a hard time or take advantage of an opportunity.” – Chris Peterson
Planning Now and Into the Future with an ABLE Account:
Featured Guest: Katy Oliver, ABLE account owner
Katy Oliver works full-time as a member of a research team for PPD Global Pharmaceutical Contract Research Organization specializing in data management. In this podcast, Katy shares her experiences as a working person who accesses her state’s Medicaid Buy-In Program and uses her ABLE account to save for disability-related equipment. She also looks to her future in which she hopes to use her ABLE account to support her dream to design and build an HGTV quality accessible home.
“You can use this account and can spend it or save it and keep your benefits. I promise you it is possible.” – Katy Oliver
Nathan Turner BLOG
As an African American member of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) generation, I have spent over 15 years advocating for higher levels of self-determination in the disability community, specifically for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I am committed to increasing economic self-sufficiency in the Black, Indigenous and Other People of Color (BIPOC) and disability communities to help members of our community reach their full potential. I work with numerous stakeholder groups, including the Board of Trustees for Legal Aid of Western Ohio, the Ohio Statewide Independent Living Council Advocacy Task Force, The Ohio Self-Determination Association and the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities, Board of Directors, and the Ability Center of Greater Toledo. In 2021, I came on board with ABLE National Resource Center as part of a team of ABLE account owners and family members who serve as BIPOC Ambassadors helping ABLE NRC bring awareness of the benefits of ABLE accounts to BIPOC communities. National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is an ideal time to shine a light on how an ABLE account can support competitive employment and financial independence for the approximately eight million ABLE-eligible Americans with disabilities.
This work is personal for me. I was born with advanced cerebral palsy and have a lot of personal experience navigating all types of public benefits, including Medicaid, Medicare, Home and Community-Based Waivers, Social Security and Social Security Administration Disability Work Incentives. This experience has resulted in a commitment to social justice, human rights and strengthening community inclusion, especially as they relate to the BIPOC and disability communities and the independent living movement. As a result of my personal experiences, I understand the difficulties in navigating complex eligibility requirements for public benefits while pursuing a career. I was fortunate to have a supportive family encouraging me to attend University away from home, which helped me build skills for competitive employment. Even with support, I feared losing my eligibility for needed public benefits once I began working. These concerns led me to follow the passing of ABLE legislation in 2014, and become one of the first people in the country to open an account with Ohio STABLE in 2015.
For me, ABLE accounts represent an opportunity for people with disabilities to exercise self-determination. This is important for BIPOC communities in particular, because many of us have limited opportunities to build wealth. This can often force people into making poor financial decisions in the short-term to accommodate unexpected expenses. Prior to the establishment of ABLE accounts, it was difficult for me to save for emergencies, contribute toward retirement and safely invest my money in an account in my own name that I could easily control without worrying about losing Medicaid. I tried many saving strategies before I opened an ABLE account. For example, a piggybank, prepaid cards and giving money to my circle of support to hold onto for me. None of those options gave me independent access to my own money or the opportunity to have my money grow in ways that people without disabilities, who are not reliant on public benefits, take for granted. These experiences made me realize the importance of financial literacy for people with disabilities, especially in BIPOC communities.
The ABLE National Resource Center has an abundance of helpful content to assist people wherever they are on their ABLE journey. The Roadmap to Enrollment and the Roadmap to Independence, both on the ABLE NRC website, are great places to start. The ABLE Decision Guide Series are interactive and very helpful in becoming familiar with the basics and moving to a more advanced understanding of ABLE accounts. The ABLE Employer Toolkit is a great resource for employers seeking to hire, retain and support a qualified and diverse workforce. ABLE NRC also hosts webinars, panels and podcasts with subject matter experts and ABLE account owners like myself who serve as ambassadors, sharing our stories and best practices. I have learned that money means freedom for people with disabilities and that competitive employment will almost always result in more financial stability in comparison to cash benefits.
ABLE accounts are flexible and, when paired with other work incentives discussed with a Community Work Incentive Coordinator, they can support an account holder in any working situation. ABLE accounts can be used for basic living expenses or longer-term savings goals. For someone utilizing a stepping-stone approach and working part-time to maintain public benefits, an ABLE account could be used for assistive technology, transportation or anything else they might need to live, learn or access their community. Full-time employees can do all of the above or use an ABLE account for unexpected expenses or as a more flexible retirement account. There is a lot of freedom in knowing that you have the ability to withdraw funds for qualified disability expenses as needed. Account holders who work may also able to contribute an additional amount from earnings.
I use my ABLE account to save for larger purchases. In 2019, I used my ABLE account to purchase an accessible vehicle and have saved several thousand dollars as a down payment for a home. For my longer-term career goals, I will continue to help others in my community and support them in understanding the complexities of working while navigating public benefits and healthcare programs. There is a strong need to engage BIPOC communities in all of this due to systemic barriers in education, justice and medical access that have become more apparent in the past few years. I am considering training to be a certified work incentives counselor to help me with this work and my ABLE account could help pay for that training.
ABLE accounts are a foundational strategy to build wealth, plan for the future or pay for unexpected expenses and generally make it easier to live, learn and access our communities. ABLE accounts ultimately allow owners the opportunity to live more self-determined lives. They can provide meaningful supports as people with disabilities in BIPOC communities create new opportunities for employment. The ABLE Act builds on the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act and provides a powerful tool to help millions of people with disabilities live life to their fullest potential while pursuing fulfilling careers.
SIMON Cantos Spotlight
Simon Cantos is a 39-year-old mechanical engineer who lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A graduate of Villanova University, he has been a Senior Sales Engineer for Carrier Air Conditioner Company since 2013 and a PA ABLE account owner since early 2021. Simon is ABLE-eligible as a result of having a rare form of Congenital Muscular Dystrophy (CMD).
Born in Sydney, Australia, Simon’s parents – a chemical engineer and nurse who were originally from the Philippines – moved the family to the United States in 1990 when he was seven-years-old, and became naturalized as U.S. citizens 11 years later in 2001. Coming from Australia where universal healthcare provided for Simon’s medical and support needs, Simon’s family was unsure about his eligibility for public benefits until a high school guidance counselor, who was helping Simon get ready to apply to colleges, told them about SSA benefits. That was when they learned that Simon’s CMD diagnosis may qualify him for public benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Medicaid. He has transitioned on and off SSA disability benefits as his income from work has varied over time. That was between stints working as a contractor for companies like Mars Electronics and Motorola before he came on board full-time with Carrier. The only public benefit he receives now is from Pennsylvania’s Medicaid Buy-In Program.
A self-proclaimed “car guy,” Simon has already used his ABLE account, opened earlier this year, to pay $1,800 for an unexpected expense for his adaptive vehicle. When he gets a new power wheelchair, Simon will use his ABLE account to help pay for part of that as well. Vocational rehabilitation will pay for the other part after looking at his work income. He is responsible beyond that for a percentage of his chair based on his salary. Simon’s portion will come to $3,200 or 15 percent of a total of $20,000. The other $17,800 for his chair will be covered by Simon’s primary insurance through his employer, along with the Medicaid Buy-In program he’s on in Pennsylvania. He’s glad he has his ABLE account to help cover that needed expense.
“I opened an ABLE account in order to save money for potential future qualified disability expenses. I hope to use my ABLE account to adapt a house in the future, which is a five/10-year goal. The housing market is a little crazy now and it’s not the best time. My dream residence would be buying an old garage or shop where I can convert an office/retail area into a residence and keep most of the garage area intact to work on my vehicle so I don’t have to go to a shop. I could also bring a mechanic over to help me work on my vehicle.”
At home, Simon uses a personal care assistant and nursing care for his needs. Once he’s in his wheelchair and dressed, Simon is ready to start his day. At work, the restroom, his cubicle, entrance and exits and other spaces are all accessible. Plus, during the pandemic, Simon has been working from home along with the rest of his office, only going into the office on Mondays. “When I first started, my boss at the time told me, ‘This is the first time that I’m aware of, that we’ve had a wheelchair using employee that we wanted to hire. We need to have a very open dialogue on how to work out some of these disability related issues.” Simon continued, “I was used to that with other companies, working things out with them. And we worked it all out. It was really reassuring to have Carrier go above and beyond to keep me employed. Working with them has been a blessing.”
Right now, Simon has his company’s health insurance and, as was mentioned earlier, he is also enrolled in “Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities,” Pennsylvania’s Medicaid Buy-In Program. In terms of Simon’s nursing care, he shared that his company’s health insurance wouldn’t provide for that. This is why he needs the Medicaid Buy-In program. This is the kind of challenge that Simon has gotten used to taking in stride and working his way around, and it is part of why he appreciates how easy and useful he has his found his newly opened ABLE account to be.
Simon says it best when he shares that, “ABLE accounts are something that even 10 years ago, I didn’t think was possible. Now disabled people have the ability to have a savings account or an emergency fund, which is incredible. For a family or an individual who is in the position of being able to work and earn an income, and move off SSI/DI, having an ABLE account is a godsend. It gives someone a chance. It gives a family a chance to raise funds to pay for a wheelchair or an adaptive vehicle, or to make their home more accessible. Having an ABLE account gives me a lot of breathing room and a way to save for the long-term, in a life-changing way. I have the ability to save up for a house, which is a big deal for anyone. For someone who has massive medical expenses like I do, to be able to do that, it’s amazing! My ABLE account makes that possible.”
When asked about his experience in 2021 serving as an ABLE BIPOC Outreach Ambassador, Simon says, “Thanks to the ABLE NRC and the other ABLE account owners and family members who serve as Ambassadors, I’ve been finding out more about how to best utilize my ABLE account. I know, through my years of mentoring others in the CMD community, the one recurring theme that I hear that comes up whenever I’m talking about an adaptive vehicle and adaptive driving is, “How can I afford it? I can’t save up $100k to do that. That’s impossible!” I tell them it IS possible and then I tell them all about my ABLE account and encourage them open one up and start saving funds in it for work, independent living and other expenses.”
AchievABLE™ Top 3 Questions on ABLE and Employment
1. Are there any federal tax credits which may be available to me when I am employed and saving money in my ABLE account
Yes! There are at least two tax credits that you may be eligible to receive when you are employed:
- The Saver’s Credit is an existing federal tax credit that low- and middle-income individuals can currently claim when they make contributions to a retirement account. ABLE account owners may qualify for the federal Saver’s Credit for up to $2,000 in contributions they make to their ABLE accounts. Withdrawals from the ABLE account are taken into consideration.
- The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) | Internal Revenue Service (irs.gov) is a credit for people who work; you do not have to have a child to qualify and the eligibility was expanded to include more people.
In addition to tax credits, the ABLE account grows tax-free. Interest earned on ABLE investments is not countable income for means-tested benefits and it is not taxable income when saved and used to pay for qualified disability expenses.
2. Can I pay for impairment related work expenses (IRWEs) I need to work from my ABLE account and will SSA consider them
Yes! The Social Security Administration clarified that for SSI and/or SSDI beneficiaries who work, IRWEs which are related to a disability and necessary to work, will be considered, even when paid for from the ABLE account. When SSA approves the IRWE request, the IRWE will reduce the earnings that SSA counts. If, however, the IRWE is or will be used as a business deduction to compute net earnings on the self-employed ABLE account owner’s U.S. income tax return, it may not be used as a deduction and an IRWE.
It is important that a person who receives SSI and/or SSDI request free benefits advisement from a Work Incentive Planning Associate (WIPA) or a Community Work Incentive Coordinator (CWIC).
3. Can a paycheck be directly deposited into an ABLE account to avoid income counting rules and the reduction or elimination of a monthly payment?
Although the paycheck can be directly deposited into an ABLE account, there is no change in the way that public benefit programs count the income. Therefore, earnings or other income will continue to be counted by the benefit program the same whether directly deposited or not into the ABLE account. An ABLE account is not a way to avoid income counting rules, but it is a way to save money as a resource. Please check with your state ABLE program for further information on direct deposit.
If the paycheck is being used for day-to-day expenses, it may be a better idea to have it directly deposited into a transactional account and then at the end of each month when expenses are paid, to transfer the remainder to the ABLE account.
ABLE Employment Resources
At the ABLE National Resource Center, we make it easy for employers to share and contribute to the financial stability and prosperity of employees impacted by the additional and often significant expenses that can be associated with having a disability. We do this through our ABLE Employer Toolkit, available for download.
ABLE Employment Advocacy
ABLE Employment Flexibility Act (HR 4672) was introduced in the House of Representatives on July 22. At this time, employer contributions to ABLE accounts are not counted as a tax deduction for the business. Employer contributions made to tax-qualified retirement plans are tax-deductible. This proposed legislation seeks to change that, adding incentives for employers to contribute to ABLE accounts for eligible employees. Sponsor: Thomas R. Suozzi (NY) Cosponsor: Brad R. Wenstrup (OH)
There is mixed support of this bill from the disability community at this time; efforts to concentrate on passing the ABLE Age Adjustment Act is a priority.
Social Security News Alert!
The Social Security Administration shares employment resources which contain ABLE account policy in the following publications and webpages:
- ABLE Act: What You Need to Know
- Disability Benefits
- Spotlight on Achieving a Better Life Experience ABLE Accounts – 2021 Edition
- What Resources and Services Are Available to Help You Earn Money?
- What You Need to Know About Your SSI When You Turn 18
- What You Need to Know When You Get Social Security Disability Benefits
- Payee and ABLE Accounts
The Publications are available to download or to order in quantity.
IRS TAX TIP
ABLE accounts: A valuable financial solution for people with disabilities.
Achieving a Better Life Experience or ABLE accounts are tax-advantaged savings accounts for individuals with disabilities and their families. These accounts help disabled people pay qualified disability-related expenses without affecting their eligibility for government assistance programs. This alert lists key things people need to know about ABLE accounts.
ABLE Plan Updates
- ABLE Utah Savings Plan launched on September 8th, joining the 13 STABLE savings programs administered by the Office of the Ohio Treasurer of State. Please note changes in account administration, balance limit, fees reductions and more for: Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming.
- The Nebraska Enable Savings plan has updated its program manager and balance limit.