Geauga Maple Leaf: Ohio Families Get STABLE Investments
Savings Program Allows Individuals with Disabilities to Save and Invest
Geauga Maple Leaf
By Amy Patterson
September 14, 2017
Jacob Lorenzen is 21 years old, and while he stays busy with sports, camp and painting portraits of his favorite superheroes, his mother worries about his financial future.
Because Lorenzen has Downs syndrome, his personal savings was once limited to $2,000, beyond which he faced the loss of necessary health and assistance programs, like many children and young adults with disabilities.
But with Ohio’s first in the nation adoption of STABLE spending accounts, he can now save up to $14,000 per year.
“Now he can have money,” his mother, Ann George, said at a meeting with representatives from the state program and Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel. Mandel’s office prioritized the STABLE program after the passage of the federal Stephen Beck Jr., Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014, which amended the national tax code.
“It’s real simple,” George said. “You go online and they ask you like three questions.”
After completing the setup and making a minimum $50 deposit, families receive a MasterCard with the account holder’s name on it, which can be pre-loaded with a set amount of money. The accounts also have an e-gifting feature, which means fundraisers for medical expenses or other costs can be easier, especially since donations to STABLE accounts are tax deductible up to $2,000.
The state’s website, www.stableaccount.com, has an eligibility quiz for parents and caregivers unsure if they meet the requirements. Mandi Merritt, press secretary for Mandel, compared the new savings program with a 529 account, which allows people to set aside money to pay for longterm expenses.
Merritt also said even people familiar with the program may not be aware how broad eligibility is.
“It’s really a very broad network of people who could be eligible and benefit from a STABLE account,” Merritt said. “People with developmental disabilities, physical, emotional, long-term medical conditions, mental health, it’s very broad.”
Tami Setlock, director of community and residential services for the Geauga County Board of Developmental Disabilities, agreed with Merritt that more people need to be made aware they could qualify for the savings accounts.
To that end, the board is holding an open meeting at the Bessie Benner Metzenbaum Center, 8200 Cedar Road, Chester Township, Oct. 17 at 6 p.m. for any families or caregivers who want more information.
One of the main topics Setlock hopes to inform people about is the difference between STABLE accounts and trusts, which can complement each other.
“The STABLE account has really allowed for a lot more flexibility because people were dumping money into their trusts, or if they had a large settlement, they would put it in a trust for when mom and dad aren’t around anymore,” Setlock said.
Families, she said, are excited about STABLE accounts because they can transfer money from an established trust into the account for day-to-day purchases.
Doug Jackson is Ohio’s STABLE account deputy director, and he has worked closely with families like Lorenzen and George over the last few years to build the program into one that accommodates their needs.
Jackson said in addition to the fraud protections MasterCard offers, there are additional fraud protections built into the enrollment process.
“With all the documentation that’s available, it would show if there’s anything unusual happening (in the account),” Jackson said, adding all deposits and withdrawals are recorded online for the records of both the account holder and if any agencies feel the need to audit spending.
“You can’t gift (money from a STABLE account) to someone else because it’s intended for the person with the disability,” Jackson said.
STABLE account spending should meet standards of “health, independence and quality of life,” meaning the cards can’t be used to purchase alcohol and tobacco or for gambling or adult entertainment.
But it offers, otherwise, a very broad ability to spend and to invest. Besides prepaid debit cards, the program also allows families to use the accounts as investments, with four options that have a mix of life strategy mutual funds and bonds ranging from conservative to aggressive.
Merritt said this is a transformative change.
“Before, people with disabilities could only save that $2,000. Now they’re talking about investing, they’re talking about growing that money, it’s completely different.”
The STABLE program grew out of the April 2015 legislation Ohio Sen. John Eklund of Munson sponsored to implement and administer the program in Ohio.
George, who had recently moved to Munson when the law passed, wrote to Eklund.
“Thank you for being a voice for the disabled in Ohio,” the email said.