Frerichs highlights success of ABLE program for people with disabilities
SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs is promoting his program that helps people invest for disability-related expenses without losing eligibility for federal public benefits.
Frerichs said Monday that people with disabilities have been told for years that they can’t work because they may earn more money than allowed to receive federal benefits. Under federal law, people with disabilities could lose their benefits if they have more than $2,000 in assets.
The treasurer’s Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) program helps parents and guardians put money into an account and invest it over time. Frerichs noted that people can save up to $100,000 in an ABLE account without losing federal benefits. The money is tax-free as long as it goes toward a disability-related expense.
“So, it could be your transportation if you need special transportation. It could be your housing if you need changes or accommodations to your housing,” Frerichs said. “It could be for things like training, physical therapy. Even if you have money left in your account when you pass away, it can be used for burial expenses.”
The treasurer’s office recently lowered the annual ABLE account maintenance fee by 25% for owners who receive electronic statements. Program management fees were also reduced by an average of six percent.
“IL ABLE is an important resource for people with disabilities and their families,” Frerichs said. “We recognize that lowering fees will empower account owners to save more money and build a more secure financial future.”
Frerichs said he wants people with disabilities to have a better life and stressed that earning money is definitely part of that experience. The Democrat explained more than $40 million has been contributed to ABLE accounts in Illinois. Owners also have an average balance of $9,200.
“ABLE is a band-aid that fixes a larger problem, stitches together something to help people. And there really should be an underlying issue that should be addressed,” Frerichs said. “We should want more people to work. We should incentivize work for people of different abilities.”
Although, the treasurer feels more work is needed to improve the ABLE program on the national level. Congress unanimously passed the Stephen Beck Jr. Achieving a Better Life Experience Act in 2014. The law states that people must have acquired their disability before turning 26 in order to qualify for an ABLE account. Frerichs argues that more people should be eligible for the program.
“Twenty-six seems like an arbitrary number. So two people serving our country in the military and walking down the road in Iraq step on an IED leaving both of them instantly disabled. One of them is 26 years old and one is 27,” Frerichs said. “Both are serving their country and both are injured in the same blast. One would legally be able to open an ABLE savings account and the other would not. We think that’s wrong.”
The treasurer said he supports the ABLE Age Adjustment Act of 2021. That legislation could increase the age limit from 26 to 46, helping more people who become disabled later in their life.
Frerichs is visiting developmental centers across the state to recognize Disability Employment Awareness Month. Hope Vocational Academy in Springfield is just one of the many developmental centers in Illinois that help people get the life skills they need. The Springfield academy provides vocational and pre-employment services for people with disabilities.
You can find more information about the ABLE program at illinoisable.com or by calling (888) 609-8683.
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