Finally, a Savings Plan to Help With Expenses Related to Autism

Autism expenses can add up. But how will it change when your child with autism becomes a young adult? One mom shares how she planned for her son's inevitable expenses with MiABLE.

Nicholas Gammicchia was one of the first individuals to take advantage of the 2015 Michigan MiABLE law that established a tax-advantaged savings program for individuals with disabilities. Nicholas, 29, lives in metro Detroit and was diagnosed with autism before age 2. His mother, Carolyn Gammicchia, assisted him with opening his MiABLE account and contributes financially to help Nicholas cover expenses related to living with autism.

“We wanted something more flexible than a special needs trust, and MiABLE gave us the ability for our son to have savings that didn’t limit him as a Medicaid and Social Security Income recipient — because for those programs you can only have $2,000 in financial assets,” Carolyn says. “MiABLE allows for grandparents or other relatives to give him spending money, and he can use it to travel or buy assistive technology.”

What does MiABLE do?

MiABLE expands on the Americans With Disabilities Act and is designed to help families save money to maintain the health, quality of life and financial independence of a loved one with a disability. It’s intended to help address the significant cost of living with a disability without impacting eligibility for government assistance programs such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

A MiABLE account can be established at any age and is owned by the person with a disability. The account holder must have incurred the disability before the age of 26.

“MiABLE was something we fought for through efforts on a national level,” says Carolyn, describing how she worked to educate legislators about the need for a specialized savings program for those with special needs. Her work, in part, facilitated the 2014 passage of a federal law called the Stephen Beck Jr. Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which allowed states to create their own ABLE laws — Michigan’s is called MiABLE.

Because MiABLE is a 529 plan similar to a college savings program, contributions can be invested in a range of investment options. Those who contribute qualify for a deduction of up to $5,000 ($10,000 for joint filers) on their Michigan income tax return.

“I like that tax deduction,” Carolyn says. “It’s nice that you do get something if you put money away for your child. And it’s convenient that you can set up an automatic withdrawal from your own checking or savings account because it adds up over the year.”

MiABLE is administered by the Michigan Department of Treasury and investment services are managed by TSA Consulting Group.

Money for qualified expenses

For the Gammicchia family, a MiABLE account helps Nicholas be more aware of his personal finances, something Carolyn says is a high priority. Because SSI doesn’t always cover the full cost of food and rent, Nicholas knows he can depend on his MiABLE savings account to help pay for essentials and anything beneficial to his education, like books and online animation courses.

“For individuals with autism, it’s so important to utilize their interest areas. Nick has always loved animation and this is the kind of thing that is vocational for him,” Carolyn says, adding that activities like going to the movies, purchasing his own ticket and navigating social scenarios at the cinema are all beneficial life experiences for Nick.

In her role as a parent of a young adult with autism and as a facilitator with the Michigan Older Caregivers of Emerging Adults with Autism and other Neurodevelopmental Disabilities program with the Michigan Developmental Disabilities Institute at Wayne State University, Carolyn has a good understanding of the ongoing needs of individuals with autism. She urges families to educate themselves about the rules and financial asset limitations of government programs like Medicaid and SSI.

She shares real-world examples like how the well-meaning family member who provides for a young adult with autism in a will can inadvertently trigger a loss of benefits if that legacy boosts assets over $2,000. Contributing to a MiABLE account instead can effectively protect those needed benefits.

“It’s not easy learning what Social Security can pay for and ensuring your child is more independent but still safe within their financial situations,” she said.

Finances are something that older adults with autism can learn, Carolyn says. “Especially young adults with autism who have the capability of understanding financial transactions, financial awareness and the ability to manage money — even become an entrepreneur — is something you can put into an IEP,” she says. “The more your child knows, the more they can protect themselves from financial exploitation.”

Financial peace of mind

It’s never too late to create a financial plan that includes a MiABLE account.

“I always tell people to think about what would happen if you weren’t there the next day. This might be the last thing you want to think about when you get a diagnosis because you are just navigating services and not thinking about the longer term,” she says. “But we really never know, so you need to think about planning and discuss your assets and what you’d plan for your child, disability or not.”

Family members who wouldn’t think twice about contributing to a Michigan Education Trust prepaid tuition contract for college — or who want to help your child with autism but don’t know how — can be encouraged to contribute to a MiABLE account, she says.

The importance of creating a solid financial foundation shouldn’t be underestimated, Carolyn says.

“In this age of equity and equality, love your kids and raise them, but be fiscally sound,” she says.

Learn more about MiABLE at miable.org or by calling 844-656-7225.

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