How New “ABLE” Accounts will Help Americans with Disabilities

Modeled after 529 college savings accounts, ABLE will offer tax advantages for people with disabilities.

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a woman with a child with Down SyndromeAmericans with disabilities and their families often face a myriad of financial challenges, but they will soon have a new financial vehicle allowing them to save for expenses and enjoy tax-free growth similar to 529 college savings accounts. Congress passed the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act on the final hour of the final day of Congress in December, creating a new type of tax-advantaged account called an ABLE account or a 529A.

The hope is that ABLE accounts will help level the financial playing field for families raising kids with disabilities. The National Down Syndrome Society estimates that the accounts will benefit roughly 5.8 million individuals and families.

“As a country, we’ve basically said that we value saving for higher education using a 529 plan, but we don’t value saving for the basic needs that are connected to a disability,” says Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., who sponsored the Senate version of the bill. “We have this bizarre and really insulting situation where a child with a disability, his or her family couldn’t save for his or her future [in a tax-advantaged account], but they could save for his or her brother or sister because they were going to university.”

Like 529 college savings accounts, ABLE accounts allow families to set aside money (up to $14,000 per person annually), and pay no taxes on that money’s growth as long as it’s used for qualified expenses. For a 529 college account, qualified educational expenses include college tuition, fees and textbooks.

The beneficiaries of an ABLE account may have more diverse needs, so those accounts allow for a broader list of qualified expenses, including special education services and tutoring, health care costs, assistive technology and housing. “[ABLE accounts] are tailored for different purposes because it covers the support, the housing, legal fees and even funeral and burial expenses,” says Dave McKelvey, a tax and business consulting partner at New York accounting firm Friedman LLP.

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Governor Raimondo to Nominate Maria Montanaro for Director of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH)

Governor Gina Raimondo announced her intention to nominate Maria Montanaro as the director of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH). Raimondo will submit Montanaro’s name for consideration to the Rhode Island State Senate in January for confirmation.

a photo of RI governor Gina Raimondo“One of our priorities is fostering innovation in state government. It is widely known that there are several challenges facing BHDDH that are holding us back from providing families with the safe, quality care they deserve,” Raimondo said. “Maria has spent her career finding ways to improve services and outcomes for families. She will be an excellent addition to our health and human services team.”

“It is great to welcome Maria back to our state as we begin to roll up our sleeves on how to improve our delivery systems across all agencies to make sure we are providing the best care, while reassessing our cost structures and contracts,” Elizabeth Roberts, the nominee for the Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. “Maria’s dedication to our state’s families will be a tremendous asset as we move forward.”

photo of new BHDDH Director, Maria Montanaro“I am excited to return to Rhode Island to take on this opportunity to reimagine the way we deliver care and empower some of our state’s most vulnerable residents,” Montanaro said. “I look forward to working with the dedicated BHDDH team to make the agency stronger.”

Montanaro is leaving her post as the chief executive officer of Magellan Behavioral Care of Iowa, and will be joining BHDDH starting on February 2. During her time with Magellan, she has managed over $330 million in Medicaid services for 450,000 recipients for the state of Iowa.

Montanaro has a track record of successfully leading innovation and transformation. Prior to leaving Rhode Island for Iowa in 2012, she worked as a senior advisor for integrated health management services at Blue Cross, Blue Shield of Rhode Island. She was also the chief executive officer of Thundermist Health Center from 1997 to 2011. When Ms. Montanaro arrived at Thundermist, it employed 75 staff members with a budget at $5 million and was the primary care and dental home to almost 8,000 patients in Woonsocket. Through her vision, strategic planning, and leadership, Thundermist is now a statewide organization (serving Woonsocket, West Warwick, and South County) with over 250 employees, serving 30,000 patients statewide and an annual budget of $23 million.

Rebecca Boss will continue to serve as Acting Director of BHDDH until February 2, 2015.

photo of Susan Jacobsen, executive director of Mental Health Association of Rhode IslandThe announcement was greeted warmly by Susan Jacobsen, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island, which backs improvements in what many advocates describe as a public mental-health system that is in crisis.

“Ms. Montanaro is a seasoned health-care leader,” Jacobsen said. “She has demonstrated longtime commitment to the most vulnerable Rhode Islanders, building Thundermist into a health center accessible to all, but where any Rhode Islander would receive first-class care. The Mental Health Association of Rhode Island looks forward to working with Maria Montanaro in her new role.”

Montanaro has a Masters of Social Work from the University of Illinois and a Bachelor of Science from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Three FREE Tax Assistance Programs Available in RI for People with Disabilities and Other Individuals

AARP Tax Aide

is offering FREE tax return preparation to people 50 & older and people with a disability. To find a site near you please call AARP Tax Aide at 1-888-687-2277 (Toll-free TTY: 1-877-434-7598) and ask for a Tax-Aide site near you or visit the AARP website.

VITA

Earn It! Keep It! Grow It! VITAIf your income is $53,000 or less you may be able to receive free tax preparation thru the VITA Program that has certified volunteers prepare taxes for low-moderate income people. To find a site near you please call the United Way Hotline by dialing 211 or visit the IRS Website.

My Free Taxes

If you prefer to prepare your own tax return or if your income is above the $53,000 VITA limit but under $60,000 you can use the United Way sponsored MyFreeTaxes tax preparation software on-line by clicking here.
If you have a question when using the MyFreeTaxes software please call United Way MyFreeTaxes helpline to get certified volunteers to assist you with tax law and input questions at 1-866-698-9436.

If your income is over $60,000 there is a fee for using the www.MyFreeTaxes.com software.


a photo of various IRS tax formsthe IRS logoLet your friends and family know about these three different FREE programs to assist people!

For more information or to download forms visit the IRS website.

Federal VOTE PLANNED For December 2014 on TAX-FREE Disability Savings Accounts

Call our RI and national Congressional Members to VOTE FOR this very important Federal Bill (The ABLE Act) in the next few weeks which will allow people with disabilities to have up to $100,000.00 in a tax free account WITHOUT jeopardizing their benefits.

Click here for more information.

Free Communications App for Emergencies

Show Me for Emergencies, an innovative, interactive app that will enhance communication between public health and emergency management personnel and volunteers and individuals with communication challenges across a variety of emergency settings.

The MA Office of Preparedness and Emergency Management has a free mobile application, Show Me for Emergencies, an innovative, interactive app that will enhance communication between public health and emergency management personnel and volunteers and individuals with communication challenges across a variety of emergency settings.
a promotional graphic for the Massachusetts Show Me for Emergencies App

The app expands upon the booklet, Show Me: A Communication Tool for Emergency Shelters, to include not only emergency shelter settings, but emergency dispensing sites, shelter in place, and evacuation scenarios as well. Within each scenario there are options to communicate information such as an individual’s preferred language, the type of emergency that’s happening, personal and medical needs, animated instructions for actions like boiling water or gathering items, etc. One of the features of the app is that once it’s downloaded to a user’s device, the app does not need internet connectivity in order to access its content.

a screenshot from the Show Me for Emergencies App showing a menu with different kinds of emergency information

screenshot from the Show Me for Emergencies app

a screenshot showing a menu in the Show Me for Emergencies App

screenshot from the Show Me for Emergencies app

Show Me for Emergencies is available to download from both the iTunes® and Google Play® stores. Click below:

download Show Me for Emergencies on the Apple App Storedownload the Show Me for Emergencies Android App on Google Play

 

For a copy of the Booklet “Show Me: A Communications Tool for Emergency Shelters” click here.