MiAble Program New Disability Savings Program 
by Hildi Johnson .

Like most parents, Natasha Steele worries about her son’s future.

A single mom who suffers from lupus, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, Steele struggles to make ends meet with a part-time job and the Supplemental Security Income she receives for her 4-year-old son, Keegan, who was born 10 weeks prematurely with multiple medical conditions, including cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus, chiari malformation, gastroparesis and visual impairments.

“What would happen if something happened to me?” Steele says. “It’s a big fear for all parents of special needs children, especially single parents.”

A new disability savings program, the Michigan Achieving a Better Life Experience (MiABLE) program, is helping ease some of Steele’s concerns.

In announcing the launch of MiABLE on Nov. 1, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said it’s “the most substantial reform for people with disabilities since the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed in 1990.”

MiABLE is a 529 (A) saving account that offers investment and tax incentives for families and others wishing to save for people with disabilities.

ABLE accounts allow for savings up to $100,000 without compromising benefits from Social Security Disability Income, Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or other state or federal assistance programs.

In addition, the funds are not taxed if they are spent on qualifying goods and services such as education, housing, transportation, employment training and support, assistive technology and personal support services, legal expenses for oversight and monitoring, and funeral and burial expenses.

“By removing barriers, we can help all Michiganders live self-determined, independent lives,” Calley said.

Legislation creating MiABLE was introduced last year by Rep. Anthony Forlini, a Republican who represents southeast Michigan’s 24th District, encompassing Macomb, Clinton and Harrison townships.

The Act was approved in October 2015, but the state needed one year to set up the infrastructure to support the program, according to Joe Aragona, the representative’s legislative director.

“Almost every state in the nation has similar legislation that they’re ready to move on,” said Aragona.

The National Down Syndrome Society maintains a comprehensive, up-to-date list of where each state is in the process of creating ABLE programs. The list is available at http://www.ndss.org/stateable.

The state platforms stem from the Stephen Beck Jr. Achieving a Better Life Experience Act signed by President Barack Obama in 2014. Beck, as vice chairman of the National Down Syndrome Society, worked for eight years to get the legislation approved. He died unexpectedly shortly after its signing, in December 2014, at the age of 44.

Michigan is only the fifth state to get the program up and running, Aragona said. ABLE programs are also operating in Florida, Nebraska, Ohio and Tennessee.

“The cost of living with a disability can be extremely expensive,” Forlini said in a Nov. 1 press release. “This program not only allows families to save for their loved ones, but also incentivizes long-term savings and financial stability for those who need it most.”

Those are familiar issues to Steele and others like her.

The three to four weekly trips she and her son make to Ann Arbor for doctor’s visits or physical therapy are getting tougher and tougher as Keegan grows.

Steele can apply for grants to pay the estimated $20,000 for installing a lift kit on her van, but she has to come up with about the same amount of money to get a van that is reliable and sturdy enough to handle it.

Last year, she attempted to raise money to replace her 2006 Montana, but she ran into a snag.

“If you’re receiving Social Security for a child with a disability, every penny you bring into your house counts against you,” she said. “They have the right to take away your SSI for your child. The MiABLE program will protect against things like that.”

“It will be a huge relief to be able to safely put away a little money to help take care of Keegan,” Steele said. “It will absolutely give me some comfort knowing that there’s money there.”

To open or contribute to an account, or to obtain more information about eligibility, qualifying expenses and other details of the program, visit https://www.miable.org/Home.php.