News Local/State

Politicians Promote Savings Plan For Disability Care

Sarah Thompson of Paxton speaks about the ABLE Act to a small audience at the Developmental Services Center of Champaign on Monday.

Sarah Thompson of Paxton speaks about the ABLE Act to a small audience at the Developmental Services Center of Champaign on Monday. Senait Gebregiorgis/Illinois Public Media

Illinois will be among the first states to implement a savings program for the lifelong care of people with disabilities. The financial planning tool is being promoted at a time when many state-funded services for those with disabilities are not being paid.

The ABLE Act, which stands for Achieving a Better Life Experience, is federally-inspired legislation, signed into law earlier this year. The program is similar to 529 college savings plans, which have certain tax exemptions. 

For Sarah Thompson of Paxton, this program could mean stability for her son Braden for years, even after she's gone. 

"He requires some care, some daily care. And it's pretty extensive daily care," she said. "I do worry about some of those things, certainly."

13-year-old Braden was born prematurely, and has a whole host of diagnoses. But his mom says for the moment, he's happy and healthy...and excited for high school next year. 

"We're talking about homecoming now, he's thinking about a homecoming date for next year already," she said. "So, you know, it's better to plan ahead."

Thompson says her family has taken advantage of other medical savings plans, but many come with strings attached, like stipulations on how much money one can use and when it can be taken out of an account. For independent people with disabilities, current law makes it difficult to save over $2,000 without becoming ineligible to receive disability services.

State Sen. Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) says the ABLE Act will create stability for those with disabilities, especially as the state remains in a tenuous budget battle. 

"The state takes care of many of those payments now...that doesn't give much peace of mind for those families," he said. "Anything else they can do to make sure their child is secure and I think this bill does that."

Bennett says he was inspired to sponsor the legislation after taking partial responsibility for his adult cousin with disabilities who lives in a group home in Illinois.

"Some of the conversations we had were some of the same worries that any family would have in that situation," he said of the time after his Uncle passed away.

The savings plan will allow families to create a fund of up to $100,000 for the longterm care of a loved one with disabilities. The ABLE Act will be fully implemented next year, after a federal rules-making process is complete