A couple of weeks ago, Michael Anderson did what most people would when their home is damaged: He used his checking account to pay someone to fix some small holes in the wall after his aide accidentally pushed Mr. Anderson’s wheelchair into the wall.
But that simple process was new to Mr. Anderson, 35, of Lower Merion, Pa., who has cerebral palsy.
Since Pennsylvania in April began letting people with disabilities like Mr. Anderson open PA ABLE accounts, he has not had to worry that he had so much money in his checking account that it would result in him losing state or federal benefits. Without such an account, or a special needs trust, having more than $2,000 in cash on hand can cut a person with a disability off from many programs, including Social Security or disability payments.
“It has changed my life in a lot of ways,” Mr. Anderson said of the PA ABLE account he opened in April, noting that he also recently bought himself a new home computer. “It just makes it a lot easier if I want to make purchases.”
Mr. Anderson was fortunate enough to have a special needs trust his grandparents set up for him years ago that also kept the assets from affecting his government benefits. But setting up such trusts is expensive and complicated, and withdrawing money from it is a cumbersome process that requires Mr. Anderson’s mother’s approval for each transaction.
The PA ABLE Act was approved in part to give families a way to save money for people with disabilities, rather than having to create special needs trusts, as well as preventing people to have to artificially spend down assets to qualify for government benefits.
In some cases, parents in the past have been advised to write their children with disabilities out of their wills, because inheriting money would make them ineligible for government programs. And some people with disabilities have faced losing their government benefits after well-meaning neighbors or friends held fundraisers to help them, for example, renovate a home to make it more accessible, only to find out the funds could be counted as assets for the person.
“That is the kind of situation this program can help avoid” because money raised through fundraising, or inherited, can also be placed in the accounts, said Susan Tachau, Mr. Anderson’s mother and executive director of the Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation, one of the many disability advocacy organizations that pushed for approval of the ABLE Act.