ABLE Savings Plan earns national recognitions for empowering Oregonians with disabilities to bank easily and accessibly.
SALEM – Oregon’s ABLE Savings Plan has earned national recognition for allowing thousands of people with disabilities to save money safely and easily — and without jeopardizing their eligibility for important state and federal assistance programs.
Yet the financial empowerment program, which started in 2016 and is administered by the Oregon State Treasury, is still a relative unknown to many of the Oregonians it was created to help.
Treasury staff went on the road to introduce and demystify the plan to communities across Oregon. Well, they did, before the COVID-19 pandemic.
After hosting more than 80 presentations statewide in 2019, ABLE’s Outreach and Advocacy Manager Kaellen Hessel now leads regular question-and-answer sessions from her Salem apartment, using videoconferencing platforms.
Face-to-face interaction has proved to be an essential way to communicate, she said, but in-person sessions are on indefinite hold.
“Building trust is critical when working with the disability community,” she said. “The way we do this is through interpersonal communication and showing that we’re listening and we care.”
The shift to technology for personal outreach is one way that Oregon government is being nimble to ensure that people with disabilities – many of who face higher risks due to preexisting medical conditions — are still being served at a time of higher health risks and social distancing orders.
“While we can’t do in person meetings, it is important that individuals living with disabilities and their caregivers know that we are still available to help answer questions about the ABLE savings program as well as our other savings programs at Treasury,” said Treasurer Tobias Read.
The Department of Human Services, which provides a menu of services for people with disabilities, is also using more video technology to stay connected.
One such example: With physical offices closed, the Vocational Rehabilitation program is doing all of their counseling appointments virtually, and has started offering intake appointments via video platforms as well, said Sherryll Johnson Hoar, a DHS Communications Officer.
ABLE accounts were authorized by Congress in the Stephen Beck Jr. Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014, and can be opened by people with disabilities if the age of onset was before 26.
It costs a lot to cover the extra bills that come with living with a disability, which makes it hard to buy a house, cope with big-budget expenses, or set aside money for an emergency fund. Yet the government previously penalized saving, by setting a low ceiling for allowable assets in order to be eligible for key vital federal benefits like SSI payments.
So, if somebody received an inheritance, for instance, they risked losing access to federal aid programs.
Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read and the Oregon ABLE programs were recognized in 2019 by the National Down Syndrome Society with a 2019 Stephen Beck Jr. Champion of Change Award. The award honors those in the Down syndrome community who advance positive reforms at the local, state and federal levels.
As much as $100,000 can be saved in ABLE accounts, which belong to the saver and not the state, without it affecting Supplemental Security Income (SSI). As much as to $400,000 can be saved without affecting other benefits.
As of March 31, there was a combined total of $19.9 million saved by more than 3,000 people through Oregon’s ABLE program, which includes the Oregon ABLE Savings Plan and also a version for people who live in other states, known as ABLE for ALL.
Hessel, the ABLE Outreach Manager, said the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive for the virtual sessions. Treasury was planning to add more online outreach sessions before the pandemic, she said. Now, those look to be part of the business model going forward, even after social distancing ends.
Future ABLE webinars can be found at https://www.oregonablesavings.com/events