Fighting for the Right to Save Money

Imagine being caught between a rock and a hard place: you have a significant disability that impairs your ability to work full-time or in some industries and may come with substantial medical expenses, so you need government benefits to support yourself. However, if you start working part-time or you develop other creative methods of bringing in income, your benefits are cut correspondingly, keeping you in effective stasis. Meanwhile, you can’t have more than $2,000 in assets. Disabled people in the United States don’t have to imagine this scenario, because this form of enforced poverty is a way of life for them: the structure of government benefits programs makes it extremely difficult to work, save money, accept inheritances, or make investments while disabled.

On the surface, tight regulations make sense; people who are capable of supporting themselves without help shouldn’t be getting the benefits that other people need. However, the restrictions are so tight that they’re actively harming the large number of disabled people who occupy a betweenspace, capable of some work and interested in setting by savings and other assets as a form of security, but unable to do so because they don’t want to risk their benefits.

The disability community has lobbied about this issue for decades, arguing that the limitations on benefits unfairly restrict disabled people, and Congress appears like it’s finally decided to listen and take action. Lawmakers are taking up the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which would allow people to deposit up to $100,000 in a tax-free savings account without jeopardizing their benefits, including Medicaid, critical for many disabled people with extensive medical expenses.

Under the ABLE Act, people would be able to spend the money from their savings accounts on education, housing, transportation and other specific expenses. It has bipartisan backing in both the House and the Senate, along with support from a large number of disability rights groups who see this legislation as a path to financial independence and security for millions of disabled people across the country. Given that almost 28% of disabled people were living in poverty in 2010, it’s clear that the government needs to come up with a functional method of supporting its disabled population and lifting disabled people out of poverty, without creating loopholes that could be exploited by people who don’t need benefits.

The benefits of the ABLE Act could be huge for disabled people. In just one example, disabled people can end up in financially exploitative relationships with caregivers or romantic partners that are difficult to extricate themselves from because they have no savings — with ABLE, they could draw on their savings to get out of a financially, or physically, abusive environment, using the money to rent a new home or apartment. Similarly, disabled people could afford better transit options, healthier food and so much more with the money they saved, exercising the same consumer choice that non disabled people have. These savings accounts would also allow people to plan for the future; a disabled person who knows her impairment will get worse over time could save up for a time when she’ll need more support, thus actually saving the government money by planning ahead, something she can’t do now.

If the ABLE Act passes, it will be a major step in the path to improving access to financial empowerment and independence for disabled people, and it could help to address the shocking poverty rate in the disability community. People will no longer have to choose between paying work and their benefits, instead receiving the help they need, while also helping themselves.

Photo credit: Rafael J M Sousa.


Donna F.
Donna F2 years ago

ty for this important article! I hope the ABLE Act finally passes. such a thing might have helped me when I was younger. I'm more ill now, older, w/less information. being in poverty while people verbally spit at you for getting money from the government is the pits!!! judgmentalness is also the pits.

Mary B.
Mary B2 years ago

And they've been working on getting this rule changed for decades! This also the way it works for anybody getting SSI [suplimental security income] when low income people reach 65. Welfare is similar. If you work part time, you lose benefits so you can never get ahead. Then people blame the government. Read thru the comments and see who really keeps stupid ideas like this going.You don't feed somebody because they 'deserve it', you feed them because they're hungry.Unless you prefer crime and rioting in the streets? When those of you who would rather punish your brethren understand that we all have a right to a piece of the monetary pie and there is no reason why it should be controled by private banks, then it will not seem so offensive that the government should supply it's people with the currency of the realm so they have a means of exchange, whether they have a job or not.This is offensive mainly because you think it all comes from taxes. What if it didn't?

Steve N.
Steve N2 years ago

If someone on handouts is able to save up $100,000, then it's obvious they are being given too much.

Don V.
Don Vreeland2 years ago

Point: Not allowed to BE Prepared for such eventualities.

(computer refreshed or buttons ... didn't finish below).
A big critisism of socialism / communism is that
U can't get ahead.

U can't get ahead.

(Personal note: I'm getting the wrong help. All service for my survival I had to pay. Negligible (Zero) help from friends and social services - the most shocking surprise and unexpected. I'm a vicious fighter and searched searched searched ...)

Don V.
Don Vreeland2 years ago

BINGO! Thank you so much for this work!

This teaches to blow all yr money and not save and invest responsibly. I've been thinking about this for a while and now it's my situation. I was taught the (apparently) TALENT with money (required training during childhood era for talent).
Worse 'Medicaid' limit is $1500. $1 more and Revocation!

On Medicaid 1983 to 1996.
I was on HMO Medicare 1996 to 4.2013
Now again.on Medicaid (after bogus (telephone #'s) care from HMO - no doct.) spending 500% income in 30 month crisis. I was able to do this on SSD (1996 - ) from my Talent with money and investments. Now 170s% AI in debt (@ 4% APR one year loans with my 'talent'). I'm doing the impossible. Now maybe 'they' will throw me off all other help, the raising money from these 'emergencies' - all medically related. I liquidated assets and chose not indebtedness but Survival


Stacy S.
Stacy S2 years ago

I'm currently living in the hole this mess creates. My mother is on disability, and I live with her. I actually CAN'T get work outside the home or her benefits could get cut back by more than I would get paid, because we're technically the same household as I live with her to see to her needs. So far that's been the last ten years of my life. I'm 35 now. I've missed out on any chance to go to college or have much of a life, and since I can't save for an education and can't get a job to pay into social security, I'm scared that eventually when my mother dies I'll end up homeless. Not to mention the social stigma that comes of being a "Thirty year old loser who still lives with her mother".

Debbie Matthews
Debbie Matthews2 years ago

Why the government has done this for years is cannot rise to help yourself and your family to a more stable living pay into social security all your life..upon retirement you will be limited to working..your benefits will be reduced..the United States need to change these issues..
The reality is the US citizens of these catagories no longer matter...

Karen R.
Karen Ryan2 years ago

I have known people who tried so hard to be independent, but if their earnings went up a little, they lost benefits and had no more money than before, thus preventing them from saving a little nest egg.

Vicky P.
Vicky P2 years ago


Andrea Jarich
Andrea J2 years ago

I really do hope ABLE act gets passed. I have Aspergers and I want to be able to save up money without worrying about getting my benefits being taken away. Thanks for sharing.