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Treasurer promoting disability savings

October 13, 2018

HUNTINGTON — For those receiving government benefits, like Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), saving money for the future can be difficult or even impossible without fear of losing those necessary benefits.

But now in West Virginia, those with disabilities have a way to save without fear.

West Virginia State Treasurer John Perdue is working to educate citizens about the new West Virginia Achieving a Better Life Experience program, known as WVABLE. Launched earlier this year, WVABLE allows qualifying individuals to save up to $15,000 a year with earnings accumulating tax-free. If they are employed, people can save an additional $12,060.

The savings may be used for qualified expenses, such as rent, transportation, education and training.

The account can be used different ways to fit an individual’s needs. A WVABLE account comes with a loadable debit card and has features similar to a checking account, but it is also an investment account. It has features similar to a 529 college saving account and 401(k) retirement fund.

Prior to WVABLE, individuals with disabilities could only save $2,000 before losing needs-based benefits. A trust could be established, but that requires an attorney.

“What we are told consistently is, ‘We are here. We can contribute. We can live a life of quality. We can be valuable members of society if you would just stop putting barriers in our way,’” said Marc Ellison, director of the Autism Training Center at Marshall University, on Thursday at an awareness event on campus.

“In 1985, when I started working as a job coach for a 20-something diagnosed with autism, he worked 20 hours a week at a library shelving hundreds of books a day. ... He didn’t work only 20 hours a week because there wasn’t work for him to do — there was a need for a fulltime employee to do that gig. The problem was he couldn’t save more than $2,000 at a time unless he lost his medical benefits. So he worked less than he wanted and less than his employer needed. It was a policy barrier we put in his way.”

Perdue said stories like that have led to a mistrust of the government, and it will take education and time to earn that trust back and allow people to put aside the fear of losing benefits.

“We have a chance to educate every single person in this state, and I’m willing to do that,” Perdue said. “I’m not a person that gives up on a program. I’m not a person who gives up on the people of West Virginia.”

To be eligible for a WVABLE account, an individual must have developed a disability prior to age 26, be living with the disability for at least a year or expect their disability to last for at least a year. They must also meet one of the following: eligible to receive SSI or SSDI; have a condition listed on the Social Security Administration’s “list of compassionate allowances conditions;” or self-certify their diagnosis. Accounts can be set up by a qualifying person with a disability or a parent/legal guardian at no cost.

Visit www.wvable.com to take an eligibility quiz or start an account.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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