Celebrating the 5th Anniversary of the ABLE Act: Legislation that Gives People with Disabilities the Ability to Save Money
By Meg Traci, Theresa Baldry, Isaac Baldry, Travis Hoffman, and Justice Ender
of the Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities at the University of Montana and Summit Independent Living
December 19, 2019
On December 19th, Montanans will join the 5th anniversary celebrations of the U.S. ABLE Act. The Stephen Beck, Jr. Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act recognizes the late Mr. Beck, who paved the way for a better life for his daughter, Natalie, and for individuals like Natalie, by empowering millions of eligible Americans to save money for their future. The ABLE Act established a tax-advantaged program for qualified individuals and their families to save money for disability-related expenses.
After the passage of the ABLE Act, Montana established its ABLE program during the next state legislative session. Senators Fred Thomas, Mary Caferro, and Cynthia Wolken co-sponsored SB 399; it passed the Montana Senate 49-1, the House 100-0, and was signed by Governor Bullock on May 5, 2015. Today, nearly 300 people living with disabilities have Montana ABLE accounts.
Before the ABLE Act was passed, many Montanans with disabilities were unable to save money to help pay for costly disability-related expenses without losing their eligibility for vital public benefits such as Social Security Administration and Medicaid programs. This caused people with disabilities to depend solely on tax-payer funded programs to meet their needs.
Before the ABLE Act, Isaac Baldry of Miles City had limited options to save money for large purchases necessary to improve his life. He had to discourage cash gifts from family and friends because cash gifts count as income and could impact his monthly benefits. Now, for his birthday, which is also December 19th, Mr. Baldry can share the Ugift code tied to his ABLE account and family and friends can contribute toward something he needs. Currently, Mr. Baldry is saving to buy an accessible vehicle. He also used his savings to cover the unforeseen expense of a new iPad to support his communication app. Mr. Baldry monitors his savings and enjoys seeing earnings on his conservative investments. The opportunity to save money and use the funds to reach goals of independence has encouraged him to save regularly.
Basic living and medical expenses for persons with disabilities can be higher than what persons without disabilities pay in their household budgets. ABLE account funds can be used for things related to the account holder’s disability and maintain or improve their health, independence, or quality of life. Eligible individuals may open an ABLE account in Montana or in other states’ ABLE programs that allow out-of-state enrollment. ABLE programs vary and many have quarterly fees so do some research before picking the ABLE program that is right for you or your loved one.
Individuals who acquired their disability before age 26 and meet certain disability criteria are eligible to open an ABLE account. There are limits on how much can be contributed annually to an ABLE account, with a few exceptions related to savings from employment. A minimum contribution of $25 is required to open the account.
So how are we celebrating in Montana? In this season of giving, you can:
- Learn more about ABLE accounts
- Share what you know with family, friends, and neighbors
- Use the Ugift option this season to support someone live a healthier and happier life
If someone you know is eligible for an ABLE account, there is still time to establish and contribute to an account this year, and possibly get a state tax benefit of up to $3,000. The process usually takes 30 minutes. ABLE account information is available on the websites below and there are numbers you can call for more information.
For more information:
- The Rural Institute is hosting a webinar on the Montana ABLE Act on March 24, 2020. Follow the Rural Institute Facebook page or the Rural Institute Transition and Employment Projects Facebook page to keep updated.
- Montana State University’s MontGuide: Montana ABLE Accounts: Achieving a Better Life Experience
- POPULATION SPECIFIC FACT SHEET: What to Know When Assisting a Consumer with Intellectual Disability