by Jason Snead, Research and Communication Specialist
A very common practice for the new year is for individuals to make New Year’s resolutions. Some of the most common resolutions are to get in better shape physically or financially. This is true for individuals with disabilities, as well.
Let’s focus on the financial aspect first and talk about the physical aspect later…after I put down my potato chips.
Individuals with disabilities can have some unique challenges when trying to become financially independent because they have to navigate through public benefits which are essential for their everyday needs. And those benefits are almost always affected by how much a person has in cash or other assets.
Even so, there are several different ways to protect your money/assets if you have a disability. The items talked about here are some of the most underutilized programs and benefits and the ones we get the most questions about at ADDPC.
The first is the Freedom to Work Program, a program that provides health coverage to working people with disabilities in Arizona who are not otherwise eligible for AHCCCS. People in the Freedom to Work program get full AHCCCS coverage in exchange for a monthly premium.
The applicant may qualify for this program if the applicant:
- Is age 16 - 65
- Is an Arizona resident
- Is a United States citizen or a qualified immigrant
- Is working and paying taxes
- Has a Social Security number or applies for one
- Applies for potential income that may be available, such as unemployment, pensions, and Social Security
- Receives Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) or is determined blind or disabled by the Disability Determination Services Administration (DDSA)
- Is not eligible for any other AHCCCS program
- Has countable monthly earned income (after allowable deductions) under $2,530.00 per month (only about half of your earnings will be used as your monthly countable income). AHCCCS does not count the income of your family members nor unearned income such as Social Security. Assets are not counted when determining eligibility.This program has a premium of up to $35.00 per month, so it really is quite affordable for most people.
To apply for the AHCCCS Freedom to Work program, call the AHCCCS Freedom to Work Unit:
- Within Maricopa County: 602-417-6677
- Statewide: 1-800-654-8713 - Option 6
The second way to enhance your income is to open an Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account.
ABLE accounts are savings and investment tools built specifically for people with disabilities that allow them to save money without impacting public benefits. The “Stephen Beck Jr. Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act” was passed by Congress in December 2014; the Arizona legislature passed House Bill 2388 in 2017 to establish the Arizona ABLE Program (AZ ABLE) and individuals could begin enrolling in AZ ABLE on March 5, 2018.
The beautiful thing about ABLE is this: With ABLE accounts, individuals and their families can save funds and keep their SSI, Medicaid, HUD, or other means-tested benefits. The only requirement is that the funds in an ABLE account must be used for disability-related expenses, a definition that covers a very wide range of possible needs from healthcare to education, housing to transportation, and much, much more.
Before ABLE, people with disabilities who received public benefits were not allowed to have more than $2,000 in savings or other liquid assets. This limitation made it difficult to live independently. Families were discouraged from saving for their children with disabilities because of the potential future impact on benefits. ABLE changes all of that.
Account owners can save up to $100,000 in an ABLE account without sacrificing SSI benefits. Your SSI benefits will be suspended if you go over the $100,000 amount, but you’ll still be eligible for all other benefits (such as Medicaid). Once your balance drops below the limit, your SSI benefits will resume as normal.
What other advantages does an ABLE account have for a person with a disability?
● I can save money in my own name - and more than just $2,000.
● I can save for the future and keep needs-based benefits.
● I can work without having to “spend down” my current or future income.
● I can achieve some of the dreams that I never thought would be possible.
● And I can improve my quality of life.
For more information on the AZ ABLE program and ABLE accounts, visit:
Imagine What I Can Do…
Finally, there is the Ticket to Work Program.
Ticket to Work is a federally-funded program that helps Social Security beneficiaries with a disability reach their employment goals. Designed for beneficiaries aged 18-64 who get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Ticket to Work offers a variety of services to help you get a job. These services can include:
- Vocational rehabilitation
- Job coaching
- Job counseling
- Placement services
The Ticket to Work Program is completely voluntary; there is no penalty if you decide not to participate.
If you participate in the Ticket to Work Program, you must make timely progress toward reaching your employment goals — that is, you must follow your work plan and meet deadlines specified by the program.
The Ticket to Work Program defines timely progress this way in the first year. You must:
- Complete 3 months of work with gross earnings of at least $1,110 per month, or
- Complete your high school diploma or the equivalent, or
- Complete 60% of a full-time course load for an academic year in a college or technical/trade/vocational training program, or
- Complete some combination of this work and education requirement.
The requirements increase slightly every year. See progress requirements here.
For more information on the Ticket to Work Program:
Have a great start to the year, everyone - and go make some money!