Campaign Gets Word Out About State Savings Program for People with Disabilities

Michela Robb (r) and mother Tammie Stimpfel (photo by Michael Percha)

A two year old program to help disabled people in Michigan is getting some exposure.

In 2014, the U.S. Congress passed the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which helps relieve an uphill financial burden challenging hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities and their families across the country. In November 2016, Michigan launched MI ABLE, which allows disabled residents to overcome a $2,000 federal asset limit placed on government benefits like Medicaid or SSI. Eligible residents can choose from a variety of investment options, saving up to $15,000 annually without fear of losing those benefits. They’re available to people who became disabled before the age of 26, regardless of the nature of their disability.

MI ABLE Program Director Scott de Varona says the program isn’t well known but is hoping to get the message out with the I Will Never Lose campaign.

“The disabled population is not one that we’ve ever marketed to or ever had a program for. So that’s been one of our number one concerns, is trying to involve the disability advocacy groups to ensure that they understand how this program can help their populations.”

Currently there are about 300,000 disabled residents of Michigan. However, only 2,400 are currently enrolled in the program.

Residents like 25-year-old Michela Robb of Bay City are seeing the benefits of MI ABLE. Robb, who has cerebral palsy, is a recent graduate of Saginaw Valley State University with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing. She volunteers her time at the Bay County Historical Museum. Because of financial gifts given from friends and relatives for her graduation, she exceeded the $2,000 cap by a small amount. Her Social Security benefits were garnished, resulting in a lengthy process to get them back. The financial strain prevented her from helping her family pay to have her wisdom teeth removed.

Robb says the limits placed on her finances also limit her freedom.

“Being able to even work, I want to work. I’m actually volunteering in Bay City… to earn the experience. But I have the experience now, but I just can’t use the experience that I’ve gained in the way that I want to with that limitation.”

The Michigan legislature, while not actively involved in the program, which is administered through the Michigan Department of the Treasury, is lending it’s support to the campaign. State Senator Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth) says the MI ABLE isn’t about entitlements, but is a way for people with disabilities to become more self-sufficient, appealing to members on both sides of the aisle.

“This is not an assistance program, this is people with disabilities helping themselves, families helping themselves. The legislature has very little to do with this, except that we’re going to part of the awareness campaign and the unveiling of this. But I’m really pleased and proud to be part of that. ”

To learn more about the program, visit the MI ABLE website.

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