New program in Missouri 'game changer' for people with disabilit - KMOV.com

New program in Missouri 'game changer' for people with disabilities

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(Credit: KMOV) (Credit: KMOV)
ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV.com) -

There is a new program in Missouri that will allow people with disabilities to save money without losing benefits.

Federal lawmakers passed the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) act in 2014. That legislation set the table for Missouri to establish “MO ABLE” this spring, powered by Stable Accounts and championed by Missouri State Treasurer Eric Schmitt.

The program can significantly change the financial independence of a person with disabilities. In the past, if someone had more than $2,000 in a savings account, they could lose their Medicaid or Social Security benefits. With the implementation of “MO ABLE,” people with disabilities can deposit $14,000-a-year into a Stable account. Family and friends can also contribute to the account. The account will not impact benefit eligibility unless there is more than $100,000 in the account at one time.

“There was a lot of excitement, a lot of relief from especially parents and guardians of people with disabilities that were wondering how are we going to be able to provide quality of life for children knowing the limits were set so low before,” said Larry Opinsky, a disability rights advocate and father of Lilly, a high school student in the Parkway School district who has Rhett Syndrome.

“Lilly has someone with her every day all day to help her with basic needs, moving around, her wheelchair. Lilly understands everything that is going on around her. But she has a unique communication system so it takes someone skilled and trained to understand what her wants and needs are,” said Opinsky.

One of Lilly’s favorite activities is hippotherapy, or equine therapy.

“It’s an amazing intervention for people like Lilly who have physical disabilities and spend a lot of time in her wheelchair. It gives her independence sitting on the back of a horse, moving around, and a great amount of pride,” said Opinsky.

Therapies like this are one example of an expense not covered under federal benefits that Lilly could use money in her account to fund. In fact, money in MO ABLE accounts can be used to pay for a wide range of disability-related expenses, including basic living expenses, housing, transportation, assistive technology, employment training, education, health and wellness, financial management, and legal fees.

This program could also help address a cycle of dependence and poverty for some people with disabilities who have little incentive to work when they know a paycheck could jeopardize their eligibility for benefits.

“There are whole systems in the disability community that are built around the fact people can’t make more than $2,000. Unfortunately, it’s taking advantage of that situation. This hopefully will start to even that out, giving people the ability to go out, have gainful employment, even if it’s part-time, and enjoy the benefit of having a paycheck,” said Opinsky.

One aspect that is difficult for family members to think about but a reality all must eventually face is what happens to the money after the loved one with a disability dies. According to the State Treasurer, the money can go toward outstanding bills for any qualified disability expense and pay for funeral and burial costs. Then, if the person received Medicaid benefits while they had the account, Medicaid can file a claim for some repayment to be paid with the balance.

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