Braille Monitor                          January 2019

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Busting Myths about Disability and Personal Finance

by Kane Brolin

Kane BrolinFrom the Editor: Kane Brolin and his wife Danika have been self-employed for nearly twenty years. Most recently, Kane has been working as the owner/operator of a financial planning and brokerage business based in Mishawaka, Indiana. Having been totally blind since infancy, Kane serves as president of the Michiana Chapter in the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana, and when this article was posted, he was serving as president of a small private school board as well. 

But Kane has vivid memories of a seven-year stretch of time when he was unable to land full-time employment, even after attaining a bachelor’s degree and even though he had worked continuously part-time for years. That struggle to land work—or even a second interview for a job—is something he can call to mind as clearly now as if it had happened yesterday. It gives him a heart for the 70 percent of blind, working-age Americans who are unemployed, even now in 2019. Experience has taught him that the condition of unemployment is not always caused by a lack of jobs. Sometimes blind Social Security or Medicaid recipients choose to remain unemployed because they are frightened they will lose benefits—especially health benefits—that have been critical to their financial survival. Now that the most recent recession is over and given that jobs and accessible technology solutions are more plentiful than ever, Kane feels we are living in a window of opportunity like never before. While that window remains open, it’s time for us to step up and raise our own expectations of ourselves and to realize that getting a job does not have to threaten our survival, nor does it have to lead to our being deemed ineligible for the government-sponsored benefits that have served us as a lifeline. Here is what he says:

It seems the internet has become a great leveler. Just a click or two can make any of us sound like an expert. And let’s face it: The only thing more stimulating than taking part in a heated debate is feeling like we’ve won that debate. But would you trust your child’s financial future—or your own, for that matter—to an internet search engine or an online discussion forum?

Recently while perusing an email list for parents of children who live with visual impairment, I ran across some well-intentioned advice meant to help one of the listers figure out how to save for her daughter’s college education. There was only one problem: the advice presented was wrong.

As a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional, I have learned over more than a decade that often the best thing I can do is prevent a client from making irreversible, costly mistakes.  While qualifying to hold the Chartered Special Needs Consultant™ designation, I learned that if you’re investing for the future needs of a son or daughter with a disability, some mistakes are so costly that they may disqualify your family member from receiving critical, government-sponsored benefits such as Supplemental Security Income or Medicaid. At the very least, not understanding the characteristics of the investment product you could be buying could dramatically lower the amount of money your son or daughter will have access to when it comes time to spend some of it. So let’s bust two myths that I find to be annoyingly persistent in today’s marketplace.

If I am the recipient of SSI, SSDI, Medicare, or Medicaid, going to work will cut off my benefits. It’s not worth it. Not only is this statement false, believing it prevents many people with a disability from attempting to earn higher education, because they think that working full-time at any job eventually will deprive them of health benefits or much-needed home- and community-based services from Medicaid. Why try for a college degree if there is no way to use that degree later without risking financial ruin? What a lot of people don’t realize is that the Social Security Administration has an incentive program called Ticket to Work whose purpose is to help recipients of SSI, SSDI, Medicare, and Medicaid transition into the workplace without sacrificing their benefits. By drawing from expert advice, keeping good records, and wisely using impairment-related work expenses to offset earnings from employment on your income tax returns, working gainfully might be more lucrative and less painful than you think.  To find a Work Incentives Planning and Assistance program that serves your area or an employment network with a benefits counselor, call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 866-968-7842 or for TTY users 866-833-2967 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern Time.

If I’m disabled, even if I have prosperous people in my family who could contribute to my standard of living, I must remain destitute, or else I lose eligibility for SSI, SSDI, Medicare, or Medicaid. Not necessarily true. You would do well to remember a couple of facts that many miss. First, if it is Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) that you receive, “there is no limit to the amount of assets, cash, or resources you own.” SSI and Medicaid do impose strict limits on the value of cash or investment assets that may be held in your name directly. But, thanks to the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, signed into law in 2014, disabled Americans now have access to the ABLE account. This account, which can receive contributions from many different sources, is a place where money can grow through tax-favored capital gains, dividends, and interest income. Then, it may be used for your benefit without jeopardizing your eligibility for government programs. How may this money be used? For “qualified disability expenses” related to the individual’s disability or blindness and made for his/her benefit in maintaining or improving health, independence, or quality of life, including:

So take heart. Living with a disability can be challenging on many levels. But don’t let the fear of enforced impoverishment stop you from taking risks, gaining skills, and working toward a productive and affluent future. Do your homework, seek the advice of legal and financial professionals, and—above all—don’t let the fearful things some people say stop you before you start. 


Taken from SSI Spotlight on Impairment-Related Work Expenses, published by the Social Security Administration.
See Money Mondays: Wage Reporting - Myths, Tips and Ticket to Work, published on May 15, 2017, by the Social Security Administration.
Quoted from Is There a Social Security Disability Asset Limit? | DisabilitySecrets.
Taken from Promoting Access and Inclusion in ABLE Programs: New Opportunities for Saving, Financial Inclusion, and Economic Security for Individuals with Disabilities and Their Families, published by the ABLE National Resource Center.

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