Thursday, January 26, 2017

ABLE Act Programs Grow

Last summer, we wrote about the ABLE Act; a promising piece of legislation for Americans living with disabilities. The ABLE Act of 2014 allows people living with disability and their families to set up a tax-free savings plan, modeled after 529 plans which allow parents to set up tax-free savings accounts to use later to offset the heavy cost of college.

Two years after the ABLE Act’s passing, three states had either launched or were preparing to launch a version of the program, including Nebraska, Tennessee and Ohio. In a short period of time another seven states have adopted similar programs which could dramatically improve the lives of people with disabilities.

Before the ABLE Act, people living with a disability who saved as much a $2,000 a year could be rendered ineligible for Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, Money reports. Now, those same people can save up to $14,000 a year before it would affect their eligibility for the aforementioned benefits. A game changer, to say the least. States with ABLE Act programs now include:
  • Alaska ABLE Plan
  • Florida ABLE United
  • STABLE Kentucky
  • Michigan’s MiABLE
  • Nebraska Enable Savings Plan
  • Ohio STABLE Accounts
  • Oregon ABLE Savings Plan
  • Rhode Island’s RI’s ABLE
  • Tennessee’s ABLE TN
  • Virginia's ABLEnow
The funds that go into ABLE accounts will not count against the $2,000 asset limit for Medicaid, SSI or SSDI, according to the article. If you are living with disability in California, you may have looked at the above list with some concern, having not seen the state listed. California’s version of the program CalABLE began operations July 1, 2016 and is anticipated to open for business summer 2017, according to the Office of the State Treasury.

If you or a family member requires more information and/or assistance in filing for SSI and/or SSDI, please call Driscoll Law Corporation 949-359-1370 for a free consultation.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Garnishing Social Security Benefits

student loans
If you are one of the millions of Americans who has attended college in last couple decades, then there is a good chance you are in debt. The price of higher learning in the United States has gone, and is likely to continue to go, in one direction—up. College Board figures indicate that the average level of tuition and fees at a four-year public college rose by 87 percent (in 2014 dollars) between 2000 and 2013.

While the rising price of tuition should be in line with the amount of money graduates can expect to earn upon entering the workforce, the reality is far from the case. Meaning, there will continue to be a large percentage of people who will not be able to pay their student loans. As a result, parents often consign for their children’s student loans—at seemingly great risk.

In order to ensure that older Americans pay back what they owe, the Federal government has garnished the benefits of over a hundred-thousand people ages 50 and older in the past year, The Washington Post reports. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that more than half of them were receiving Social Security disability benefits, such as SSDI or SSI.

The government is garnishing money from people who are already living below, or on the edge of the poverty line, to pay what is owed for Federal student loans, according to the article. No more than 15 percent of one’s monthly Social Security benefits can be garnished, but it is a percentage that has never been adjusted in respect to the rising cost of living; this effectively makes impoverished people even poorer.

“We can’t be garnishing people’s Social Security in a way that puts them into poverty,” said Senator Claire McCaskill (Mo.). “We need to make sure that we have adjusted the ability of the government to recover those loan amounts in a way that is not spiraling people into poverty.” 

Data for the Social Security Administration (SSA) indicates that there are as many as 179,000 permanently disabled people in default on their student loans, according to the article. In response to what many consider to be predatory behavior, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren co-sponsored a bill last year that would prohibit the garnishing of SSA benefits for student loans (currently held-up in committee).

“Our government is shoving tens of thousands of seniors and people with disabilities into poverty through garnishment every year — and charging them $15 every month for the privilege — just so that the Department of Education can collect a little bit more interest and keep boosting the government’s student loan profits,” Warren said. “This is predatory and counterproductive.”

If you have questions about an SSA garnishment resulting from your or your child's student loan, please contact Driscoll Law Corporation.