SIDNEY — A recently-launched federal program to benefit the financial planning for the disabled, and those caring for them was the focus of a public meeting in Sidney Wednesday night. Ohio is the first state in the nation to implement the plan that will allow tax-sheltered money to be set aside without impacting the disabled person’s current government benefits such as Medicaid and Social Security Income.
More than 50 people were at the Shelby County Board of Developmental Disabilities campus to hear James Bernholtz of the state treasuer’s office explain how the new STABLE Account law works. Those whose disability occurred prior to age 26 qualify for the program.
The acronym STABLE is Ohio’s marketing term through the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, passed in December 2014. The legislation gives families and individuals with disabilities the opportunity to create tax-advantaged accounts that can be used to help maintain health, independence, and quality of life.
Bernholtz said state officials wanted someone with a vested interest in helping families caring for someone disabled to be involved. He said he has a disabled son and has dealt directly with all the problems this new program hopes to solve. He also toils as the Economic Development Officer in the state treasurer’s office in Columbus.
The first point Bernholtz made was that no rules or laws have changed in the ways caregivers handle administrative duties for the disabled.
“Everything is still the same. Nothing has changed in the way you have to do things to qualify for benefits and provide for the loved one,” he said. “This program is just something new that can benefit in many ways.”
Since June 1, when the program began, Ohio is one of a handful of states to implement the mandated program. The program is available to citizens of all states through the Ohio program.
Bernholtz said it took lobbying by people just like those in the crowd to make it happen. Lobbying efforts continue to raise age limits in order to have people such as wounded military veterans qualify.
The STABLE Account allows individuals with disabilities to save and invest up to $14,000 per year without losing government benefits. The investment earnings are tax-free when used to pay for Qualified Disability Expenses (QDEs).
The QDEs include costs for basic living expenses, housing, transportation, assistive technology, employment training, education, health and wellness, financial management and legal fees. The money also qualifies for final expenses and associated costs.
Bernholtz said the idea is to better the quality of life for the disabled person, physically and emotionally. It ranges from healthcare, to acquiring a new computer to assist with learning, or, simply going to a restaurant for dinner.
“How big is that for some families dealing with these type issues? Just to be able to go out to dinner. You know how good that can make our loved one feel,” Bernholtz said.
There is a variety of funds these savings monies can be invested in. Higher risk mutual funds or lower risk, or guaranteed accounts. Anyone individual or organization may contribute to the account, which is handled by the person assigned to manage the administrative side of the disabled person’s care.
The money is easily accessed through account transfers or a STABLE Card, which is a prepaid debit card. Actual cash withdrawals are not allowed.
Monthly fees are $2.50 for Ohio residents or $5 monthly for those outside of Ohio. Also, asset-based fees of 0.19 percent to 0.34 percent depending on their chosen investment options.
Bernholtz said the treasurer’s office will not be tracking transactions or monitoring expenses paid from the accounts. He warned, however, that the IRS and Social Security may legally require individuals to provide proof of spending of money on QDEs.
He outlined the STABLE website found at stableaccount.com. He urged attendees to go online and take a short eligibility test to see if they qualify. If they do, another 20 minutes is needed to establish an account. A minimum of $50 is needed to open an account.
Bernholtz said, “This is a great program that caregivers like yourselves have lobbied those in Washington (D.C.) for 10 years to get passed. It was truly a grassroots effort.”
For additional information, contact the STABLE office at 800-439-1653.
This writer is a regular contributor to The Sidney Daily News. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.