Missouri prepares savings account program for people with disabilities

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COLUMBIA - Missourians with disabilities will soon be able to sign up for an "ABLE" account. ABLE stands for Achieving a Better Life Experience and it's a program started by the treasurer's office. 

The savings account is tax-exempt and people with disabilities can sign up without losing their federal benefits.

The executive director of Midwest Special Needs Trust, Kathy Birkes, said the types of federal benefits vary for each person.

"You're usually looking at people who are on social security and Medicaid, sometimes, you're looking at people who are on SSDI, the disability payment and Medicare," Birkes said.

Birkes and the Midwest Special Needs Trust supports the disabled population so people can collect money or receive money and still maintain their public benefits. She said the newly-allowed accounts will put people with disabilities on a "level playing field." 

"They are a wonderful opportunity to support the disabled population in a way, especially the low-income and more moderate individuals that are receiving public benefits or receiving some services," Birkes said. "It allows them the opportunities to receive some monies or save some monies in an account that does not inhibit them with an asset test in terms of their eligibility for public benefits."

Birkes said, even though these savings accounts are a step in the right direction for those with disabilities, signing up for an account comes with several requirements.

"One has to have had their disability determined before the age of 26, they are only allowed to deposit $14,000 a year, it also has restrictions in terms of the amount you can cap out at in terms of balance in the ABLE account." 

Spinal chord injury survivor Max Lewis said he thinks the ABLE accounts are a great idea.

"I think it's going to be beneficial to those who may have bills that exceed what they can pay for out of one check," Lewis said. "A lot of times in one month you have rent, you have your cable bill, you have your telephone bill, etc."

Lewis said he's a recipient of Medicaid, Medicare and social security supplementary and disability benefits and, even with those benefits, it's barely a livable wage.

"My maximum monthly amount comes to $827 a month," he said. "In my situation, it's hard to save money but it's possible. You just have to budget really well."

The launch date for the ABLE program is April 24.