September 26, 2017

Contact:  Jon Ebelt, Public Information Officer, DPHHS, (406) 444-0936
                Chuck Council, Communications Specialist, DPHHS, (406) 444-4391

Montanan’s with disabilities can now sign up for ABLE accounts

Accounts allow individuals with disabilities to save for the future without impacting their ability to apply for assistance

By Jon Ebelt

DPHHS Public Information Officer

Helena’s 12-year-old Ethan Martin has dreams for his future that extend well into adulthood. And thanks to a new fully implemented law, he and many other Montanans will have the ability to save for the years ahead without compromising their ability to apply for assistance.

The 2015 Legislature passed SB 399 to help eligible individuals with disabilities, such as Ethan. Eligible Montanan’s with disabilities can now establish ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) savings accounts that allow more autonomy and control over personal saving decisions and spending on qualified disability expenses, while protecting eligibility for Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, and other important benefits for those with disabilities.  

The new program was announced Tuesday, September 26 at 11 a.m. in the Governor’s Reception Room at the Capitol in Helena.

“This opens up a whole new world for people,” said Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) Director Sheila Hogan. “In the past, folks with disabilities were essentially penalized for saving money and being financially responsible. This will positively change the lives of thousands of Montanans.”

DPHHS administers the Montana ABLE program. Qualified ABLE account expenses include, but are not limited to: education, health and wellness, housing, transportation, employment training and support, assistive technology, and more.

Senator Mary Caferro co-sponsored SB 399 with Senator Fred Thomas and Senator Cynthia Wolken. “I’m elated that this opportunity has become a reality,” Caferro said. “I’m so proud to have been a part of this effort, and I know that this is going to provide a path for success for so many people down the road.”

Clancy parent Jon Bennion said his son, Jack, qualifies for an ABLE account, and for their family it’s been a lifesaver. “Once we understood the full extent of Jack’s disabilities, we knew that his ability to save money would be severely restricted if he ever relied on government programs later in life,” Bennion said. “The Montana ABLE Act changed all that. The money saved through his ABLE account will help pay for medical costs not covered by insurance, medical equipment to help with his mobility and other items to help improve my son’s quality of life.”

Novelene Martin, Ethan’s mother, says her son’s modest dreams include one day living in his own home – with a walk-in closet. An ABLE account gives her the piece of mind knowing she can make concrete financial plans for Ethan’s future. “I have often worried about how to save money for his future, and the ABLE account has provided us with a terrific avenue to move forward,” she said. Martin knows firsthand the difference this program will make as the head the Developmental Disability Program for DPHHS.

Giving people with disabilities the power to save their own money or use contributions from others can help them improve their living conditions with an eye toward accessibility, find appropriate transportation options so they can hold a job, or use for additional education or training to help them become more independent.  

The reason why a qualified individual needs an ABLE account is because without them, many people with disabilities have very limited ways to save and allow for further independence. Bennion said the law recognizes the obvious. “People with disabilities face added costs and burdens that aren’t covered by government programs, and the state should not stand in the way of these individuals saving their own money to be used for disability-related expenses,” he said.  

While there are annual contribution limits and caps on account balances, any person, such as a family member, friend or the person with a disability, may contribute to an ABLE account for an eligible beneficiary. One added benefit to Montana’s program is that the law provides an income tax deduction of up to $3,000 per year for certain contributors.

There are specific requirements set by federal law to be eligible to open an ABLE account. The first option is a person who is entitled to benefits on the basis of disability or blindness under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program or under the Social Security disability, retirement and survivors program. The second option is for someone to submit proof that meets the criteria for a disability certification. In both cases, an eligible individual’s disability must have occurred before the age 26. ABLE accounts not only can help those early in life save for future years, but it is believed that many of Montana’s disabled Veterans who show proof of a disability before age 26 could benefit.

Bennion, who also serves on the Montana ABLE Program Oversight Committee and is the Chief Deputy Attorney General at the Montanan Department of Justice, said the implementation of SB 399 took time to get off the ground as there was no appropriation. Efforts to find the appropriate vendor for ABLE accounts proved difficult, he added.

Hogan said DPHHS ultimately contracted with the same vendor, Ascensus, which offers Montana’s tuition savings program. “Accounts are easy to open and manage online, offer a variety of investing and saving options, and a dedicated call center is available for assistance,” Hogan said.

For those interested, please visit mt.savewithable.comto get more information.