Missouri State Treasurer wants businesses to acknowledge people with disabilities' talents using MO ABLE
Wednesday, October 23, 2019
Sworn in only nine months ago, Missouri State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick has earned the responsibility of helping Missourians with disabilities save money through the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) act.
For National Disability Awareness Month, Fitzpatrick has been traveling around Missouri to present information, educate families and caretakers about the MO ABLE program.
The ABLE program was established in federal law in 2015 and adopted in Missouri in 2017. Fitzpatrick’s focus is on growing the MO ABLE program by conducting tours around Missouri to speak with organizations and business owners to help them get on board with the movement.
The program was created so people with disabilities could save money into an account that would give them tax benefits while also not impacting their eligibility for federal benefits like Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income.
"Typically, you can't have more than $2,000 in assets and be eligible for those programs [Medicaid and SSI], Fitzpatrick said. “Money in a MO ABLE account is excluded from that calculation.”
Communications Director for the Missouri State Treasurer's Office Mary Compton expressed how the program can provide the opportunity for those with disabilities to both have a job and save money.
"The greatest barrier to employment for people with disabilities is the fear of losing benefits because of the $2,000 limit," Compton said. "You know, they basically can't save for a car or home or anything because if they hit $2,000, they lose those benefits which they need to survive.”
This account allows people with disabilities to save money for their various needs without losing out on their benefits due to having money saved.
Fitzpatrick says he understands this topic can be scary for people to talk about and deal with, but this initiative is only beneficial.
"They are oftentimes hesitant to do something that they don't fully understand the consequences of it,” Fitzpatrick said. “So we have to try to educate the folks who could benefit from it and walk them through why it’s a good idea to use it and how it works in terms of not impacting their eligibility for benefits.”
Fitzpatrick has a personal connection to this program as he caters to his twin sons who were born with disabilities.
"For me, it's an opportunity to save for their future, like a family with a typically developing child who saves for a 529 college savings account," Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick expressed some of the challenges with the program. One of the challenges includes it being hard to grow the program because a lot of people do not know about it. Another challenge is the program running without a marketing budget.
"We're basically doing everything we can without having any money," Fitzpatrick said. "That includes talking to journalists and going on TV, basically generating earned media to try to raise awareness about it in hopes that some people that could benefit from it."
Fitzpatrick explained a limitation of who can apply based on when they are diagnosed with a disability. As of now, the program is only available for people who learned of their disability prior to the age of 26.
Fitzpatrick and his team are working at the federal level to get Congress to change the age limit from 26 to 46 years of age. In efforts to change age limits, they have been lobbying, sending letters to their delegation and have spoken with U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt.
Those eligible will be able to enroll online. Once the account is created, there is an option for that person to sign up to have a portion of their check to be put in their ABLE account, similar to a 401K as a payroll deduction.
Fitzpatrick said Missouri has one of the largest programs so far with 1,100 accounts and is within the top 10 in terms of ABLE accounts. Since the ABLE program is in most states, Fitzpatrick was able to lean on them for partnerships.
"We partnered with 12 states to pull out assets into a consortium so that we have a larger program that could be more self-sustaining and we are the second largest in that consortium," Fitzpatrick said.
To qualify for the program, participants must have been diagnosed with a disability. A pre-approved list shows disabilities that automatically qualify. Those not on the list must be signed off on by a physician.
There is not a way for someone to become ineligible for a MO ABLE account. Fitzpatrick said once the money is in the account, it cannot be taken away and will always be that person's money.
"The only way it would impact somebody's benefits, like I talked about Medicaid or SSI, would be if the balancing account exceeded $100,000," Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick has educated groups at events that had up to four people in attendance to hundreds of people.
According to the Treasurer's Office news release, at the beginning of the month, Fitzpatrick visited Ability Kansas City Industries and presented MO ABLE presentations with the Independence Housing Authority. After visiting other parts of Missouri, he came to Cape Girardeau on Thursday, Oct. 17 and 18, where he spoke with Missouri Bankers and other local businesses