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Michigan launches campaign for MiABLE savings program

Awareness campaign aims to set up people with disabilities for the future

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LANSING, Mich – A coalition of government, business and nonprofit leaders today announced Michigan's first ever statewide public awareness campaign encouraging people with disabilities, their families and advocates to consider opening a MiABLE savings account.

MiABLE is a state-operated program where Michigan account holders and their loved ones are now allowed to save and invest money without losing eligibility for government benefits like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Medicaid. Michigan's plan comes from a bipartisan bill approved by Congress in 2014 – the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act – to help relieve the uphill financial burden that challenges thousands of families and people with disabilities nationally.

"People with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty compared to their working-age peers, they are less likely to be employed and they also are more likely to be underemployed," said R. Scott de Varona, MiABLE program director, during a Lansing news conference today kicking off the statewide enrollment campaign.

"Too often, that means people with disabilities and their families are in difficult financial circumstances through no fault of their own simply because they have fewer opportunities to earn income and face significant penalties that prevent saving," de Varona said. "MiABLE accounts are a down payment on freedom for thousands of Michiganders with disabilities and their families."

While approximately 300,000 Michigan residents with disabilities are eligible for MiABLE, only 2,000 people – less than 1 percent of those who qualify – are currently using the accounts. The goal of the MiABLE "I Will Never Lose" campaign is to reach out to disabled individuals and their families who haven't yet taken advantage of the program. 

Michigan was among the first handful of states to sign this disability savings program into law in 2016 and is now one of the 40 states nationwide offering the accounts. Enrollment in nearby states is far higher than Michigan, prompting the state's move to launch an awareness campaign. In Ohio, for example, approximately 10,000 people have opened this type of accounts since its launch in 2016, spurred largely by an education campaign supported by a public service announcement television commercial featuring recently retired Ohio State University football coach Urban Meyer.

Among MiABLE account holders are Dave and Kathie Martin of Haslett, whose 14-year-old son, has Down syndrome. The Martins have four children, including Luke, who attends Haslett Middle School near Lansing. Since Luke was born, the Martins have worried about Luke's financial future.

"Now we can save for Luke's future, so he's not forced to live poverty like so many other disabled people who lose their benefits if they have more than $2,000 in savings," Kathie Martin said during the press conference accompanied by Luke.

As an occupational therapist for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), Kathie Martin knows too well about the fear of people with disabilities exceeding  the threshold of having more than $2,000 in his or her bank account

"So many people with disabilities want to work and their families want to save, but they're fearful of losing their Medicaid and other benefits if they have more than $2,000 in assets," Martin said. "No parents wants their child confined to a life of poverty simply because they have a disability – MiABLE changes all that."

The Michigan Department of Treasury has created a new statewide MiABLE coalition of advocates including disability groups, financial institutions and other stakeholders to share details about MiABLE with thousands of their clients throughout the Great Lakes State.

The enrollment campaign, which will continue throughout 2019, includes organizations such as MDHHS, Autism Alliance of Michigan, The Arc Michigan, United Cerebral Palsy of Michigan, Capital Area Down Syndrome Association and Disability Network Capital Area, among others.

"MiABLE is another tool to help individuals with disabilities save for vital day-to-day expenses and live full, independent lives," said state Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-East Lansing, one of the featured speakers at today's news conference.

"Thanks to MiABLE, individual with disabilities and their families will be able to move forward toward a more secure future and to help offset the financial challenges that can accompany living with a disability," Hertel said.

While account holders can withdraw and spend their money at any time, they're also free to grow their money and save for the future. Earnings in MiABLE accounts aren't subject to federal income tax and contributions to MiABLE accounts are tax-deductible. Dollars placed in MiABLE accounts can be added and withdrawn at any time. Anyone can contribute to a MiABLE account – family, friends and the account holder.

"We know the financial burden many of our clients face, so we are happy to share information about MiABLE with them," said Greta Wu, chief human services officer at Peckham Inc., a Lansing-based nonprofit which provides paid job training for thousands of mid-Michigan people with disabilities.

MiABLE accounts offer pre-screened list of six investment options from Vanguard and Dimensional funds ranging in approach from conservative to aggressive, as well as an insured bank savings account option. Beneficiaries may save up to $500,000 – among the highest limits in the nation.

"It's so important that we continue getting the word out. Everyone deserves the peace of mind that comes with being able to save for the future," said state Rep. Sarah Anthony, D-Lansing.

For more information or to sign up for a MiABLE account, visit miable.org.