Savings and Oklahomans with a Disability: Before OKSTABLE vs. Life with OKSTABLE accounts

The City Sentinel’s continuing series on STABLE accounts and related issues:  

“It’s amazing the way this changes our thinking, we don’t have to think about hurry and spend, we get to think, dream and save”.
 – quote from a recent OK STABLE account user.

The ABLE act, (Achieving a Better Life Experience) was passed by Congress in 2014 and was designed to enable citizens with disabilities and their families to save. OKSTABLE was launched in May of 2018. These accounts are an investment account that allows qualified individuals with disabilities to save and invest money without losing eligibility for public benefit programs, like Medicaid or SSI. A great benefit from these accounts is the ability for individuals to save instead of “spending down”. 

“Spend down” is a term used in the disability world quite often which is the action of literally spending down money by a person who receives benefits to stay under the resource limit to continue benefits.

The downside to a spend down is that the money will not be available in the future to pay for things they need. Some insurance companies will cover a basic wheelchair and can limit a person’s ability to participate in some outdoor activities due to the terrain or loose sand. 

Hunting is a rite of passage for many Oklahoman’s growing up, but if a person needs a wheelchair for mobility, that limits their ability to experience this rite of passage. Technology and power wheelchairs make access to rugged terrain and sandy beaches a possibility. The all-terrain wheelchairs can cost anywhere from $3K to over $10K. An ABLE account can offer a person the ability to save for one of these all-terrain wheelchairs.  

Another example is the cost of a fully accessible vehicle which can be a bit pricey. The ABLE account allows for a person to save more for a down payment offering them yet another rite of passage…owning their own vehicle. 

Saving for a vacation or saving for a down payment on their first home, without losing their benefits are other examples. With an ABLE account the person can start saving their money, continue working with the supports needed, and have personal responsibility. 

Excess funds can be put in an OKSTABLE account and persons with a disability can have financial independence to save for things they need and to not be excluded from events because of the inability to save money.

“Let’s face it, we work to earn money. But people with disabilities that use supports through public programs are often dis-incentivized to work because they cannot keep money beyond $2,000. This means they work, but often times only to spend-down what they earn instead of saving money for the future or for financial goals greater than $2,000. Would you work if the rules you had to play by forced you to get rid of what you earn? OK STABLE is a program in Oklahoma that allows people with disabilities to save and invest money they earn. 

“This equalizes things between people with and without disabilities in the workforce” states STABLE Account Deputy Director Doug Jackson. Furthermore, OK STABLE has made it easy for employees to directly deposit part of their paycheck into their STABLE Account. “This is no different than a person without a disability using a payroll deduction to save for the future”, Jackson explains, “Saving money before you have the chance to spend it is the best way to grow a savings account like OK STABLE”.

We can celebrate that OK STABLE is helping people with disabilities find purpose in work.
Spend Down is the past. OKSTABLE accounts for Oklahomans is the present and future. 

NOTE: Contact Ellyn Novak Hefner, ChSNP, Special Needs Consultant via email at Hefner is guiding a continuing series of reports on the STABLE program and related policy issues. This story first appeared in the September 2020 print edition of The City Sentinel newspaper in Oklahoma City.