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Disabled adults are able to save

Maryland Gazette - 1/9/2019

For decades, people living with disabilities could not save more than $2,000 without running the risk of losing key benefits, including their Supplemental Security Income. But following Maryland's adoption of a recent change in the federal tax code, it reported that about 1,000 disabled individuals put away nearly $4 million in a single year to help them pay for everything from special diets and hearing aids to rent, Uber fares and technology to support their independence.

Sama Bellomo of Baltimore'sFells Point neighborhood said she has not been able to put much in her new Maryland ABLE savings account, but it is more than she has ever saved before. The 36-year-old woman has a severe genetic connective tissue disorder.

"It's enough for a modest car repair," said Bellomo, who works in rehabilitation technology for the state Department of Education. "Better still, when I'm in the hospital, I don't have to worry about going home and not being able to pay the rent because I couldn't work."

Modeled after the 2014 federal Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, the state created the ABLE program in 2016 to provide "more independence, greater financial security and a better quality of life" for people with significant disabilities.

The accounts can be opened with as little as a $25 deposit and can be used to pay for expenses associated with the person's disability, including education, housing, personal support services and funeral costs.

Savings are capped at $15,000 a year, although people who are working and do not contribute to a retirement plan can contribute up to $12,000 more, depending on their salary.

Interest earnings from the account and any money withdrawn are tax free when used for qualifying expenses. People who contribute to an ABLE account can subtract up to $2,500 per year from their Maryland taxable income.

The state expects the program could cost up to $2 million in revenue lost from income taxes.

Without the accounts, advocates say people with disabilities were forced to live in poverty - or forgo benefits. Before the federal law changed the tax code, people did not have as much incentive to save money, because of the risk they could lose the public assistance they depend on for food, shelter and clothing. Balances in an ABLE account can reach $100,000 before their federal Supplemental Security Income would be impacted.

Bette Ann Mobley, director of Maryland ABLE, said people have been "thrilled" to learn about the new savings accounts.

"People say, 'It sounds great. Can it really be so simple?' " Mobley said. "Building these relationships is a huge part of what we have to do.

"People have been forced to stay in that cycle of poverty, never being able to get ahead. This can serve as a very empowering program for people with disabilities."

Between 31,500 and 53,600 Maryland residents are estimated to be eligible. To open an ABLE account, a person must have developed a significant disability before they turned 26. People with either physical or mental disabilities can qualify for an account.

To learn more about eligibility and to sign up for an account, visit marylandable.org.

Credit: By Yvonne Wenger - The Baltimore Sun


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