All of us in the disability community know how messed up the system is for us. We’ve been stuck in poverty for decades, due to the conditions that surround government support systems like SSI and Medicaid.
What that means is that the healthcare system is tied to our disability benefits. If we make too much money, our disability benefits are cut and we need to pay for our healthcare ourselves. Which would not be a problem if our healthcare was not so prohibitively expensive. Paul Longmore wrote about this extensively in his classic, “Why I Burned My Book,” and sadly, it’s just as relevant today as it was when he first wrote it.
Saving and ‘getting ahead’ in any way, shape or form seemed like a cruel joke before the ABLE Act was passed in 2014.
About the ABLE Act
The Stephen Beck Jr. Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014 – better known as the ABLE Act – became federal law in 2014. It was the direct result of actions led by Steve Beck, a parent of a child with Down syndrome, self-advocates and other parents of children with disabilities. The point of the ABLE Act is to allow people with disabilities to expand the $2,000 savings cap for anyone who receives means-tested benefits such as SSI and Medicaid.
Here’s a video that explains a bit about ABLEnow:
ABLEnow is one of the fastest-growing ABLE programs in the country, with accounts in all 50 states. It’s administered by Virginia529, the largest college savings plan in the US (which now has an expanded mission to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities).
What does this mean in real-speak?
It means that it’s super easy to set up an account with ABLEnow, even as a resident of California. My state does not have an ABLE program yet, but I didn’t have to wait to open my account. It also means I can confidently enroll in one of the country’s first ABLE programs, managed by a reputable agency that has helped people save for more than 20 years.
What’s the catch?
I wondered what this was. I mean, it all sounded a little too good to be true. Savings while on disability benefits?! Doesn’t matter what state you are in?!
The catches for using/opening an ABLE account, as I see it, are two:
- You have to have acquired your disability before the age of 26.
- You have to use what you save on something that is disability-related.
The first catch, well, it’s pretty straightforward. You have to have had your disability before you turned 26. I believe advocates in the disability community are trying to amend the ABLE Act to expand that, but for now, it is what it is (and that really sucks for people who have acquired disabilities).
The second means that you should spend money from the ABLE account on things that you can relate back to your disability and independence. Food and shelter count, so does transport and so forth. Keeping your receipts sounds wise (I know I will be, just in case).
And, yes: I set up my own account. I am eligible for an ABLE account based on my disability – being deaf counts!
Below is a slideshow of screenshots of the entire process.
I literally clicked a few times and within 15 minutes (or, while my coffee was still hot), had it set up. I am not kidding – I did have to follow up with sending proof of my identity, but that was IT.
My ABLEnow account comes with its own debit card that I can transfer money to from my bank account. I can maintain a regular budget for my disability-related expenses, and use the ABLEnow debit card to easily pay for those expenses.
For more information on what counts as a qualified disability expense, ABLEnow
This is a game changer; it is HUGE.
Being able to put away money for my own future – which will, of course, directly affect my kids – is enormous.
It shifts us out of the direct poverty line and lets me work and save while still retaining the safety net of healthcare for my kids and myself.
If you have had a disability since you were 26 (or if you are under 26!), don’t sit on this.
Just set up an ABLEnow and put away a little each month: future you will thank you.
Meriah Nichols is a career counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one gifted 2E). Deaf, with C-PTSD and TBI, she’s also a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.