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Expanded saving limits change landscape

Until four years ago, the only legal remedy to assist people with disabilities consisted of free medical care through Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income – if the family didn’t make too much to qualify for it.

Fourteen-year-old Gracie Black, here interviewed by a TV reporter, is one of many people of disabilities who could benefit from WVABLE. WVABLE is a savings program run through the State Treasurer John Perdue’s office.

Household income must be awfully low to qualify for SSI, as Supplemental Security Income is commonly known. That’s the circumstance that has always confronted Christy Black, 49, and husband Chris, 54, of Milton.

The Blacks are a middle income, four-member home. One of the house’s inhabitants is 14-year-old Gracie, a daughter with Down Syndrome. As household expenses and Gracie’s care went, what hurt worse than no SSI was the stipulation that people with disabilities not be able to save more than $2,000 without also losing Medicaid coverage.

“Before it was very hard for us financially until she received Medicaid,” Black said. “It’s been a lifeline and allowed us to get the medical help she needs.”

The 2014 WVABLE act changed all that. Under the law, individuals that developed a disability before the age of 26 can now save more than $2,000 without losing eligibility for Medicaid or SSI. Under ABLE – which stands for “Achieving a Better Life Experience” – individuals can save up to $15,000 annually and up to $27,060 if employed.

Black is also an advocacy specialist with the West Virginia Developmental Disabilities Council. She is pleased that State Treasurer John Perdue’s office has led the way in setting up WVABLE.

WVABLE launched in West Virginia less than a year ago and Treasury staffers have been feverishly educating the public since, to both parents of children and adults with disabilities. West Virginia was one of the first states to pass its own legislation, Black said.

“It’s a mission we join with pride,” Treasurer Perdue said. “We are only as strong as the most vulnerable members of our society. Expanding basic human rights is a hallmark of a civilized society and an extension of traditional American compassion.” 

The process to sign up for a WVABLE account is simple.  Account set up and enrollment may be done online at The account comes with a loadable debit card and has features similar to a checking account.

“Without Medicaid, we either would not have been able to afford our daughter’s care or it would have bankrupted us,” Black said. “This is a way to save for things that come up.

“The general public doesn’t understand what a family goes through who has a child with a disability, the hoops you have to jump through. The other thing I think people don’t realize is what families like mine don’t want is pity. Our daughter is happy and fairly healthy. She has an active life and that’s what we want to be able to save for, so she can continue on after we’re gone.”

The new law provides hope for the future, Black says. “Before people with disabilities had to remain poor,” she said. “They couldn’t have anything, couldn’t save anything because it would be considered an asset. West Virginia has near if not the highest population of people with disabilities per capita, one of the highest unemployment rates for people with disabilities . . . ABLE was a parent movement, from parents concerned about their children with disabilities getting older and how they could save after they were gone. It was a group of parents sitting around a kitchen.”     

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