It took eight years for legislation to get through Congress that will allow adults with disabilities to have special savings accounts.
But when Congress finally opened the door – with the help of votes from every member of Nebraska’s delegation – Nebraska officials wasted no time in making sure that developmentally disabled Nebraskans would have the opportunity to use the accounts.
The Legislature earlier this year gave overwhelming approval to a bill introduced by Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln to authorize the tax-free savings plans
Now Nebraska will be one of the first states to launch its version of the savings accounts next summer, State Treasurer Don Stenberg announced last week.
The plans, similar to a health savings account or 529 college savings plans, are called ABLE accounts, which stands for Achieving a Better Life Experience. Nebraska’s version of the plan is called Enable.
For now the plan is only open to Nebraska residents, but a handful of other states have expressed interest in joining Nebraska residents, perhaps through contracts.
Currently adults with disabilities who receive help from the government are not allowed to have more than $2,000 in savings.
For example, some adults with disabilities earn enough to cover the rent on small apartment, buy groceries, pay the utilities and have enough left over to save a little. But the $2,000 limit will apply if they have health insurance through Medicaid. If their savings account slips past the limit, they will lose their benefits.
When the new Enable savings accounts are available, those adults and their families can contribute up to $100,000.
The money can be used for things such as housing, transportation, education, health care and assistive technology like motorized scooters and a hearing aide.
First National Bank of Omaha was selected to manage the Enable savings plans. Executive Vice President Clark Lauritzen said it developed its proposal for the state, it heard directly from people with disabilities and sought out advice, insights and experience from people that work with developmentally disabled.
Importantly, the new savings plan will make it easier for disabled adults to live independently and plan ahead for the future.
It’s sometimes said that the measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. The Enable accounts mark one time when those concerns were not pushed to the side and forgotten.