Ohio hoping to grow accounts for disabled

There are roughly 5,000 disabled Ohioans who have an investment account that allows tax-free earning, but 100 times that many could be eligible for a state-run, federally authorized account, said state Treasurer Robert Sprague.

Sprague, who took office in January, said getting more families and parents with disabled children involved in the STABLE Account program is about building trust.

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“It’s a phenomenal product, and we’re going to make it a real focus to talk with these families,” said Sprague of the program launched under his predecessor, Josh Mandel.

“We’ve got to work with these families to make sure that they trust us in our product, that it’s not going to disrupt and destroy everything they put in place for their family member.”

There had been many changes in recent years to the program. Federal and state laws changed in 2014 and 2016 that allowed those who receive benefits to have more in their accounts.

“We think the potential for the STABLE Accounts approaches 500,000 people that would qualify,” Sprague said.

STABLE Accounts are investment accounts created by the federal Achieving a Better Life Experience, or ABLE, Act. Ohio launched the STABLE Account program in 2016 and became the first state to start state-run federal accounts. Anyone in the country can open an account in Ohio.

Accounts allow individuals with disabilities to save and invest money without losing eligibility for certain public benefits programs, like Medicaid. Those with an account have five investment options, and earnings are not subject to federal income tax as long as they're spent on qualified disability expenses, like education, housing, transportation, job training and support, and health care.

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The maximum annual STABLE Account contribution limit is $15,000 from any person or source, and if people are employed they can contribute an additional $12,140 of their income to the account. The account cap is $468,000, according to Ohio Treasurer's office.

STABLE Accounts have similar features to a checking or savings account, but they are investment accounts. An account-holder can invest money in different options provided, but they can still withdraw and spend money as needed.

Dan and Pam Gattermeyer of Hamilton have an adult daughter, Morgan, who has panhypopituitarism, a syndrome that causes decreased activity in the pituitary glands. As a result, Morgan doesn’t get thirsty, she can’t have children and she sometimes has difficulty in communication.

Dan Gattermeyer said there are limits for those getting Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, benefits and Medicaid, “so it prevents them from having a light at the end of the tunnel about how to save.”

“It just gives people an opportunity to realize a chance to save and get these necessary items they need to live,” he said. “It’s not complicated or difficult. You just have to get into the mindset of taking advantage of it … it’s a perfect way to save money.”

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The Butler County Board of Developmental Disabilities is not involved in directly enrolling individuals, but it can help connect people the resources they need to take part in the program, said Lisa Guliano, BCDD superintendent.

“We have educational materials provided by the state treasurer’s office we share with families, and we have hosted experts on the STABLE Account initiative to educate families,” she said. “We are pleased this opportunity exists for the people we serve yet understand it is an individual decision to explore the options and enroll.”

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