ABLE: An Account to Overcome the SSI Resource Limit for Adults with Disabilities

Living with a disability can be difficult and costly. Adults who receive benefits from the Social Security Administration because of disability often are challenged to improve their life circumstances because of a $2,000 resource limit. This limit means that a person receiving payments from Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program cannot have a bank account balance or any other resources on hand that exceed $2,000, without losing part of their benefit.

Savings of $2,000 or less can be limiting for someone who might want to move into a new home, invest in a vehicle or save for higher education or a vocational training program.

The government provides a way for individuals with disabilities to overcome this barrier and save money. The Stephen Beck Jr. ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Act of 2014 allows individuals to save up to $15,000 annually without losing benefits. ABLE is modeled after college savings plans. The savings and/or investment account bypasses the SSI resource limit and can grow interest tax-free.

There are some restrictions:

  • The account holder must meet criteria for a disability that began before age 26.
  • The account may not receive more than $15,000 per year.
  • If the account balance exceeds $100,000, Social Security benefits are impacted.
  • Most accounts have a total lifetime balance limit of $500,000.

ABLE account money may not be spent on just anything. Generally, the account funds can be used to pay for expenses that may help improve independence or quality of life.

Here are a few examples of qualifying expenses: 

  • Housing
  • Education
  • Transportation
  • Personal assistance
  • Assistive technology
  • Health and wellness
  • Employment training and support

Savings in an ABLE account are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). A chosen percentage of funds in the account may also be allocated as uninsured investment money. The account holder can choose a low-, median-, or high-risk investment strategy. Low-risk is the safest, most conservative option, with the lowest possibility for return. A high-risk investment might make more money but also could lose more. A median-risk investment is somewhere in between. Based on the account holder’s choice, the money is automatically allocated into some combination of stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.

An individual considering these options may want to consider how long the money will be in the market and risk tolerance. ABLE does warn that invested money is not insured and that money, including principle, may be lost over the course of an investment period.

Although the program was federally enacted, ABLE is state-run. Washington’s program opened for enrollments in July 2018. So far, enrollments have been low, with the State Department of Commerce reporting that only a few hundred people have opened accounts. Commerce estimates about 30,000-50,000 people in Washington are eligible for the ABLE Savings Plan and have the financial assets to open an account.

The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver recently included an article about the ABLE program and quoted Peter Tassoni, commerce disability workgroup manager: “I had hopes we’d have higher enrollment rates. I thought there would be more of a backlog of people wanting to join the program.”

Forty-one states and the District of Columbia have ABLE Savings Plans. Oregon’s plan was a year and a half ahead of Washington’s, so some Washingtonians signed up early through that option or through the national ABLE For ALL Savings Plan.

Individuals can shop around for the best program to meet their needs, and some states accept clients from all 50 states, including Virginia, Ohio, Nebraska, and Tennessee. Virginia is among a few states that issue a debit card for the account. The ABLE National Resource Center provides a toolkit for reviewing the various state programs to find the best fit.

The account holder, family and friends can deposit funds into the account using post-taxed dollars. Contributions are not federally tax deductible; however, some states may allow for state income-tax deductions for contribution made to an ABLE account.

One way to apply is to type “Open an ABLE account” into a search engine. If you also type the name of the state, you can find links that will take you directly to that program.  Washington’s ABLE Savings Plan links directly to a clickable form to determine eligibility. 

Here are additional resources for more information:

Washington ABLE Savings Plan: WashingtonStateABLE.com, Phone: 1-844-600-2253 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 1-844-888-2253 (TTY) from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday.

Oregon ABLE Savings Plan: OregonABLESavings.com, Phone: 1-844-999-2253 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 1-844-888-2253 (TTY) from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday.

ABLE For ALL Savings Plan (national plan): AbleForAll.com, Phone: 1-844-394-2253 from noon to 5 p.m. or 1-844-888-2253 (TTY) from noon to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday.

 

Mental Health Education and Support at School can be Critical

A Brief Overview

  • Approximately one in five youth experience a mental illness before age 25. About half of those with diagnosed conditions drop out of school.
  • Suicide kills two Washington students each week.
  • These outcomes make adolescence a critical time for mental health promotion, early identification and intervention.
  • A mom in Graham, WA, launched a program to improve education about mental health after her son died by suicide in 2010. The Jordan Binion Project has trained about 500 Washington teachers with an evidence-based curriculum from Teen Mental Health.
  • Emotional Disturbance is a federal category of disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). A student might qualify for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) under this category, regardless of academic ability. To qualify, a disabling condition must significantly impact access to learning. An educational evaluation also must show a need for specialized instruction.
  • Parents can share these resources with school staff, who may be seeking more information about how to help youth struggling to maintain their mental health.

Full Article

The thousands of young people who send thank-you letters to Deb Binion didn’t always believe their lives were going to work out. One writer had attempted suicide and been hospitalized many times because of her bipolar disorder. Two years after finishing high school, she reported she was doing well and offered thanks for a course in mental health that helped her understand her illness, its impacts on her brain, and how to participate in her treatment. “It made a total difference in my life,” she said in her thank-you letter.

“Until she got the educational piece and understood her illness, nothing was helping,” Binion says. “No one had ever explained to her why she had this illness and what was occurring.”

The program, which Binion started after her son Jordan’s suicide in 2010, has trained about 500 school staff throughout Washington State to help young people understand mental illness and what to do to support themselves and others. Although the numbers are difficult to track, Binion estimates that about 100,000 Washington students receive education through the curriculum each year.

“My mission is to get this information to the kids,” says Binion, who runs the non-profit Jordan Binion Project from her home in Graham, WA. She says a short-term, limited pilot project with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) showed promising results, with 60 teachers throughout Washington informally reporting that about 85 percent of students showed improvement in their “mental health literacy,” a key feature of the program.

Teachers are specially trained to provide the Mental Health Curriculum

The curriculum, available through TeenMentalHealth.org, was developed by a world-renowned adolescent psychiatrist and researcher, Stan Kutcher. He observed that classrooms often struggle to provide an emotionally safe learning environment for students with psychiatric conditions. Some attempts to provide education about mental health have created confusing and triggering circumstances for students impacted by illness and/or trauma, he found.

Kutcher, professor of psychiatry at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, responded with a model for training school staff in how to teach sensitive topics of mental illness:

  • eating disorders
  • anxiety/depression
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • bipolar disorder
  • schizophrenia
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • suicidal thinking

Deb Binion says the program was designed for students in grades 9-10, but middle-school and older students are also learning from it.  She says the program takes about 8-12 hours to teach and that teachers in regular health classes, psychology classes, family and consumer science classes and others have taught the lessons.

Binion suggest that staff receive in-person training to understand how to create a safe learning environment for students. For example, teachers learn to provide individualized help without disclosing a student’s disability or medical condition to the class.

The topics can be confusing or triggering to some learners. Some of the videos might be difficult to watch because they include personal stories of self-harm, hospitalization and people suffering from emotional stress. The program may need individualized modifications for students in special education programs because of intellectual or developmental disabilities.

For information about how to bring a training to your area, individuals can contact Deb Binion through the Jordan Binion Project website or directly through her email: deborah@jordanbinionproject.org.

Washington State recognizes a need for more education and direct support

OSPI, which oversees all school districts in Washington, provides an overview of Kutcher’s work and its connection to the Jordan Binion Project as part of the Mental Health & High School Curriculum Guide. Content in the guide was a collaboration between Kutcher and the Canadian Mental Health Association. At Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Kutcher serves as Sun Life Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health and Director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center in Mental Health Training and Policy Development.

Washington State is aware that a lack of mental health services is impacting students. Last year OSPI released data that two children enrolled in Washington schools die by suicide weekly.

According to a 2016 Washington Healthy Youth Survey, about 15 percent of teens in the state report that they have made a suicide plan. About the same percentage report that they don’t have adults to turn to when they feel depressed or anxious. The survey asked about sadness and hopelessness and whether the feelings could interrupt life for at least two weeks. About a third of the teenagers responded yes. The Centers for Disease Control reports that rates of completed suicide are rising in every region.

 

Two charts with the title, Students Experiencing Significant Mental Health Issues: 2016 Healthy Youth Survey Data

An OSPI survey in 2018 found that the number one concern statewide is that students don’t receive enough direct support in mental health, counseling and advising. Lawmakers are addressing a variety of bills during the 2019 legislative session related to mental healthcare and education. The public can contact lawmakers to participate in advocacy, and PAVE’s Washington Parent Training and Information Facebook page provides updates about some state actions that may impact families and students.

The Teen Mental Health website cites an international statistic that 1 in 5 youth experience a mental illness before age 25. Many of those illnesses lead to life challenges that require help, the agency concludes, and this makes adolescence a critical time for mental health promotion, prevention, early identification, and intervention. The agency provides a School-Based Pathway Through Care that promotes linkages between schools and healthcare agencies, parent involvement and strong educational programs that reduce stigma through knowledge and timely treatment access.

One way that Washington State has responded to the crisis is through promotion of trainings in Youth Mental Health First Aid. Through Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education) and other initiatives, Washington has grown a network of about 100 trainers for Youth Mental Health First Aid and about 4,000 first aid providers. These trained individuals can listen actively in order to offer immediate caring and can also refer youth to providers. OSPI reports that Project AWARE has led to 3,964 referrals for youth to connect with community- or school-based mental health services.  

Washington has a program for treatment response for youth experiencing psychosis. The New Journeys Program is designed for youth 15-25 who are early in their diagnoses, but there is some flexibility in who might be eligible to participate. Families can contact the program for additional information about how to apply.

Information about psychosis, early warning signs and places to seek help are available through the website of the Washington Health Care Authority (HCA). The website contains a link to information about the Wraparound with Intensive Services program (WISe), which provides community case management for children and youth experiencing a high-level of impact from a mental illness.

Special Education is one pathway toward more help

Students access some aspects of mental health support through the special education system. Emotional Disturbance is a federal category of disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In Washington State, the category is referred to as Emotional Behavior Disability (EBD). The IEP might list any set of these words or the initials EBD or ED.

A student might qualify for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) under this category, regardless of academic ability. A comprehensive educational evaluation can determine whether a student’s mental condition causes a significant disruption to the student’s ability to access school and learning and whether the student needs specialized instruction. Generally, that specialized instruction is provided through a category of education known as Social Emotional Learning (SEL). SEL can be provided in multiple tiers that might include schoolwide education, small group training and individualized programming. OSPI provides recommendations from a 2016 Social Emotional Learning Benchmarks Workgroup.

A student with a mental health condition also might qualify for an IEP under the category of Other Health Impairment (OHI), which can capture needs related to anxiety, ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome or another specific diagnosis. Students with a mental health condition that co-occurs with another disability might qualify under another category, and Social Emotional Learning might be an aspect of a more comprehensive program. PAVE’s articles about the IDEA and the IEP provide further information about IEP process, the 14 categories of qualifying disabilities and access to special education services. A student with a mental health condition who doesn’t qualify for an IEP might qualify for a Section 504 plan.

If a student, because of a disability, is not accessing school and learning, then the school district holds the responsibility for appropriately evaluating that student and determining the level of support needed to provide access to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Questions about FAPE might arise if a student with a mental health condition is not accessing school because of “school refusal,” which sometimes leads to truancy, or because a student is being disciplined a lot. Students with identified disabilities have protections in the disciplinary process; PAVE provides an article about school discipline.

Help NOW can mean a lifetime of better opportunities

The Center for Parent Information and Resources (ParentCenterHub.org) has a variety of resources related to mental health awareness, including a link to a video that details results from a national study. The study showed that students who qualified for special education programming because of Emotional Disturbance experienced the highest drop-out rates when they went into higher education, work and vocational programs. Meaningful relationships with adults who cared about them in school provided a significant protective factor. Students were more likely to succeed in life-after-high-school plans if specific caring adults provided a soft hand-off into whatever came next after graduation.

Here are a few additional resources:

  • NBC featured the Binion family and the work of their foundation.
  • OSPI provides schools with resources related to mental health education, including information related to suicide awareness and prevention.
  • PAVE provides a 40-minute webinar about suicide awareness.
  • The state currently is considering a bill to improve funding for counseling services and other bills that would boost education around mental health.
  • PAVE provides additional information about Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and state actions related to SEL programming and staff development in a series of three articles.
  • A federal agency called the Child Mind Institute provides parents with guidance about getting good mental-health care for their children and has articles on specific diagnoses and what parents and schools might do.
  • For 1:1 assistance, families can reach out to PAVE’s Parent Training and Information Center through our online Help Request Form or by calling 800-572-7368.

Here are some articles specifically about Bipolar Disorder in Youth:

Accommodations for Students with Bipolar Disorder and Related Disabilities

Educating the Child with Bipolar

Bipolar & Seasons: Fall Brings More Than Just a Change in Colors

 

How are you making a difference?

Mentor. Volunteer. Learn. 

These are just some of the ways our young adults are making a difference!  The programs of PAVE connect with youth in Washington – the sons and daughters of our military and civilian families.  We provide useful information and resources while they are in school (K-12). For career and college readiness.  And beyond.  

What are your hopes and dreams?

We all have hopes and dreams.  Meet Randy, Sarah, Emily and Mia – they are four of Washington’s working age individuals with disabilities!  Hear their hopes and dreams and help them be a part of our workforce!  They represent 23.7% of the 483,334 working age adults in WA. 

 

What are your favorite things to do?

Question: What are a few of your favorite things to do? 

Answer: Would art, nature, singing, sewing, drawing, cooking or listening to the National Anthem make your list?  They are on Mia’s and Sarah’s lists of favorite things.  Meet two of Washington’s young adults connected to PAVE.