The ABLE savings account of the state of Washington allows people with disabilities to save tax-free living expenses without compromising eligibility for educational programs. federal assistance. "It is an innovative program," said the mother of one participant.

When Emma Patterson was born 16 years ago, social workers told her parents that they never had to open a savings account on her behalf for college or for any other future expense.

It's because Emma was born with Down syndrome. If Emma had assets in excess of $ 2,000, she could lose a disability and other federal benefits for which she was eligible. Federal rules require that people with certain types of benefits be virtually destitute – they can have very little of their savings.

"Since all this time, we have been very careful not to put anything in her name," said Amy, Emma's mother, about her daughter who is now a student at Lake Stevens High.

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A new law has changed this equation. Called the ABLE Savings Plan, it allows parents and adults to put money aside in a special account to cover a wide range of living and education expenses without compromising funding. disability benefits, such as Medicaid, Supplemental Security and other federal benefits.

The growth of the account is tax-free and the money is invested in the choice of the account holder consisting of a mix of stocks and bonds. Beginning in June, the plan will charge an annual maintenance fee of $ 35. State legislation required that ABLE be autonomous and the money went to the state and to the society that runs the program, Sumday, for administrative costs.

The news of the ABLE plan is slowly spreading in this state; So far, only about 257 people have registered, said Peter Tassoni, head of the disability working group at the State Department of Commerce. The Commerce Department estimates that more than 130,000 Washington residents are eligible, and about 30,000 to 50,000 have financial assets to use the accounts.

"For 40 years, federal and state agencies have been telling people," You can never save money, "and now we're reversing things and saying," Hey, you can save money, "and people are very skeptical about it, "he said.

Participants can set aside $ 15,000 per year on an ABLE account, or more if they are employed. The money can be withdrawn immediately to cover a wide range of expenses, including education, medical services, groceries, rent, transportation, training and employment support, assistive technologies and services. personal support, as well as in a few other categories. Money can also be saved for retirement.

Anyone living in Washington State who has become disabled or blind before the age of 26 is eligible. there are certain restrictions regarding the types of disability covered and specified in the ABLE Savings Plan Website.

The Pattersons use this account to save Emma's account. Last year, Emma testified in favor of the bill before Washington state legislators and Amy Patterson went to Washington, DC several times, also to lobby for federal legislation allowing states to create ABLE accounts.

After the birth of Emma, ​​the Patterson were informed that her life choices would be limited. But over the years, Patterson has met other people with disabilities who lead successful and fulfilling lives. "There really are not a lot of limits to what a person with a developmental disability can do with their life," said Amy.

Emma wants to go to college, then work in a place like the Seattle Children's Hospital, to comfort children scared by medical procedures by teaching them how to paint. "She has great career goals," said Amy Patterson.

Money can also be saved by working adults with disabilities, and Mr Tassoni said lawmakers hoped that people with disabilities would be more likely to look for a job. Because they can store money in protected ABLE accounts, earning a paycheck will not jeopardize their benefits. "The idea is that it will help push more people to self-sufficiency," he said.

The program was made possible by a change in the tax codes of the IRS in 2014, allowing each state to create its own program. Washington is partnering with the state of Oregon and the program was launched last year. In all, 40 states participate.

"It's an innovative program," said Amy Patterson. "We want a lot of people to benefit from it."

For more information, go to WashingtonStateAble.comor call 844-600-2253.