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ABLE Savings Plan helping those with disabilities save

Columbian - 2/9/2019

Feb. 09--An estimated 30,000 to 50,000 people in Washington are eligible for the ABLE Savings Plan and have the financial assets to open an account. So far, though, only 257 people statewide had signed up through the end of December, including 18 people in Clark County. The plan officially launched July 23.

The Stephen Beck Jr. ABLE -- or Achieving a Better Life Experience -- Act of 2014 allows Washington residents with disabilities to open tax-free savings accounts and save up to $15,000 annually without losing benefits such as Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance. ABLE is modeled after 529 college savings plans.

"I just had hopes we'd have higher enrollment rates," said Peter Tassoni, disability workgroup manager with the state Department of Commerce. "I thought there would be more of a backlog of people wanting to join the program."

He would like to see everyone who's eligible enroll immediately.

Clark College student and Vancouver resident Andrew Brands signed up for a savings account last summer.

The 22-year-old, who has autism, is primarily using his account to save for the future, such as if he moves for a job after college.

"I've also been using it to help build capital to start a drone business here in Vancouver," said Brands, who captured drone footage of the sunset after work Wednesday. It's a hobby he'd like to turn into a possible part-time or full-time career.

He works on campus at Clark and is studying networking technology, which prepares students for jobs in IT.

"It's an interesting subject to get into," Brands said.

He originally began pursuing machining technology, but due to sensory issues related to his disability, he determined the work demands and environment would be difficult.

Brands said his parents thought ABLE would be "extremely helpful" for him, and the family looked into the savings account soon after hearing about it through word of mouth.

Through an advertising push, the state hopes more people will learn about ABLE and sign up for accounts.

Tassoni said television ads are targeted at public networks and about a half-dozen shows featuring characters with disabilities, such as "Born this Way," the A&E docu-series on young adults with Down syndrome. He said about $100,000 was spent on ads. One features a 16-year-old Lake Stevens girl with Down syndrome and her mother explaining ABLE's benefits.

"As the years go by, we want to travel the state and capture more people," Tassoni said. "We need Washingtonians talking about the benefits of the program."

There's also an effort to get service providers and parent groups on board. It's a matter of building trust and having trusted people explain the program.

For decades, governmental entities have told people receiving disability benefits not to save more than $2,000. Now, it's suddenly OK to save.

"There's still going to be a lot of skepticism," Tassoni said.

Forty-one states and the District of Columbia have ABLE Savings Plans. The Oregon plan rolled out 1 1/2 years earlier than Washington's, and about 50 Washington residents signed up with plans outside of the state, Tassoni said. Another 175 Washington residents take part in the national ABLE For ALL Savings Plan.

Tassoni said people are heading to Washington D.C., next week to talk to Congress about ABLE and push for the age of disability onset to be increased from 26 to 46. Raising the age requirement will allow ABLE to capture more people who became disabled later in life, such as those who were injured at work or developed post-traumatic stress disorder while serving in the military.

"Hopefully, when we fast-forward 20 years, we have 200,000 enrolled," Tassoni said.

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(c)2019 The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.)

Visit The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.) at www.columbian.com

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