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ABLE Accounts Offer Financial Independence for People with Disabilities

  • Treva Thrush

Like any teenage boy, Ethan Pedlikin likes surfing the web, playing sports, and watching the Washington Nationals baseball team. But because he has Down syndrome, government regulations don’t allow him to save and plan for the future the same way his friends can – until now.

According to a 2015 World Health Organization report, only half of the one billion plus people with disabilities worldwide are able to afford adequate healthcare. And in the U.S., the $2,000 bank account limit to receive Medicaid or Social Security benefits doesn’t allow much wiggle room for those able to work and earn money but still need the assistance.

“I was told explicitly to get rid of the $900 above $2,000 in my son’s bank account,” Ethan’s father Phil Pedlikin said. “The absurdity of that is obvious.” So Phil, along with four other parents of children with disabilities, took the issue to Capitol Hill.

For eight years, they worked to gain Congressional support for ABLE accounts – tax-free savings accounts that allow people with disabilities to save money for living and healthcare expenses.

Making a difference

In 2014, President Obama signed ABLE accounts – which stands for Achieving a Better Life Experience – into law. This past June, Ohio was the first state to open the accounts, with several other states expected to follow pursuit throughout this year.

To be eligible for an ABLE account, you have to have been diagnosed with a disability before the age of 26. Once you open the account, a family member or friend can donate up to $14,000 a year. And while account holders can put as much money in their account as they want, eligibility for government assistance cuts off at $100,000.

“One of the things we heard at one point is that this is an upper middle class benefit,” Pedlikin said. “That’s what we need to make sure doesn’t happen. We need to make sure that people who don’t have a lot of money still figure out how to put something away so they can let it compound and grow. Because it will.”

Once you’ve signed up for the accounts, you can use the money for any qualifying expense. Anything under the umbrella of housing, healthcare, food, or transportation qualifies.

Help without strings attached

But, Pedlikin said this may look different for people depending on their unique needs. For example, he said Ethan may need a bus pass to get places, job coaching to help him in a possible future career, or even an assistive touch technology device to help him with his communication skills.

STABLE Accounts ... Now Available Nationwide! Anne is the first #ABLEaccount owner in the entire country!


Armando Vasquez, regional adviser on rehabilitation at the Pan-American Health Organization, said government investment like this helps combat an important “issue of the human right” by giving people with disabilities more opportunities to participate in society.

“I think that this initiative in the United States is the golden opportunity for people with disabilities to participate in the socioeconomic area,” Vasquez said. “If you don’t include the people with disabilities to the general development of the country, you are excluding an important sector of the population.”

Phil Pedlikin with his son Ethan.

Phil Pedlikin with his son Ethan.

But Pedlikin says the benefit is more than just monetary.

“I think it’s beyond just financial independence,” Pedlikin said. “The first thing I’d say is it’s independence in general. Because when you’ve got money, you get to buy things. And those things can really provide you with an infrastructure that will allow you to be more independent.”

And that independence can help kids like Ethan do explicitly what ABLE accounts stand for: achieve a better life experience.

To learn more about how ABLE accounts and what your state offers, visit http://www.ablenrc.org/.

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