Several States Poised to Offer Savings Accounts for Disabled Americans

By PAM FESSLER  New laws in 35 states will allow more than 5 million Americans with disabilities to begin setting aside money for disability-related expenses without being penalized. Right now, many lose health and other public benefits if they save too much money, which is one of the main reasons for the high poverty rate among those with disabilities.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST: This year, for the first time, millions of Americans with disabilities will be able to put money into savings accounts without fear of losing their government benefit. Advocates say this will transform the way many people with disabilities live. NPR’s Pam Fessler reports.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Here’s an example of how ludicrous things have been until now for disabled individuals who’ve tried to save. When Emeka Nnaka’s friends raised $20,000 to help him buy a wheelchair-accessible van a year ago, he stored some of the cash in his closet in Tulsa, Okla. Nnaka, a paraplegic, needed the van to finish college and get work, but he worried if he opened a bank account, he’d lose his Social Security and Medicaid.

EMEKA NNAKA: The system is set up to keep people under, and we’ve got to find a better way to make it work.

FESSLER: And it seems like that’s about to happen. Several states are poised this year to begin offering what are called ABLE accounts. These will allow people with disabilities to save up to $14,000 a year, tax-free, to pay for disability related expenses, such as education, transportation and housing. More importantly, the money will not count against a $2000 asset limit for those receiving disability and other federal benefits.

AMANDA THOMPSON: That is going to have a huge impact on my life.

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