Expanding ABLE

Published 10:51 am Monday, May 17, 2021

The uncertainty of the last year has underscored the need for financial safety nets, which is perhaps why a majority of families tucked away their federal stimulus payments into an emergency fund rather than spending it. For some Mississippians with disabilities, however, tucking away that money wasn’t an option because they weren’t allowed to save it. Before we get to why that’s the case, however, let me take a step back.

According to a study conducted by the National Organization on Disability during the pandemic’s height, about 20 percent of workers with disabilities were laid off, compared to 14 percent of their able-bodied counterparts. This disproportionate impact was only made worse by the historic limitations put on a disabled person’s ability to create an emergency fund of their own.

Prior to 2014, those with disabilities could be disqualified from accessing much-needed food, housing, and health care assistance if they had accumulated more than $2,000 worth of savings. As a result, many with disabilities were forced to remain in poverty just to receive the public benefits they required.

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In December 2014, however, Congress passed the ABLE Act, giving millions of disabled Americans a path to greater financial independence. In the years since, families have opened 82,000 ABLE accounts that hold about $650 million in savings. But not every Mississippian living with a disability can benefit from such accounts, and I believe that needs to change.

To be eligible for an ABLE account, the disability’s onset must have occurred before the beneficiary turned 26 years old. But as Kandi Pickard, president and CEO of the National Down Syndrome Society argued: “There are many people who become disabled after age 26 who deserve the opportunity to achieve greater financial independence and self-reliance.”

Who is chief among those individuals that incur disabilities in their middle years? American veterans.

That’s why I am supporting the ABLE Age Adjustment Act, which has been introduced in the U.S. House and Senate. This legislation would increase the age of onset to 46 years old. By doing so, more veterans would become eligible, as would thousands of people who endured tragedy in their 30s and 40s. Moreover, the program would become easier to administer, thereby reducing management costs for states and making these plans more profitable for all beneficiaries.

I believe strongly that this legislation should advance through Congress and be signed into law by the President – and I will be fighting for that to happen.

But in the meantime, I will continue educating Mississippi about the program as currently written and encouraging families to sign up. If you believe an ABLE account would benefit you or a family member, please visit Treasury.MS.gov/ABLE to learn more or call my office at (601) 359-3600. We are ready to help more Mississippians with disabilities create a financial safety net of their own.

Mississippi Treasurer David McRae is the 55th Treasurer for the State of Mississippi. In this role, he helps manage the state’s cash flow, oversees College Savings Mississippi, and has returned more than $20 million in unclaimed money to Mississippians. For more information, visit Treasury.MS.gov.