New Jersey’s ABLE law (the acronym is short for “Achieving a Better Life Experience”) went into effect a few months ago, in October 2016.  Under the new law, New Jersey’s Department of Human Services and the Department of the Treasury are required to establish the ABLE Program pursuant to federal law. Persons who became disabled before attaining age 26 and meet the disability requirements for Social Security disability benefits may establish an ABLE account. An ABLE account holding up to $100,000 will not be counted when determining the beneficiary’s eligibility for public benefit programs based upon financial need, or in determining the amount of any benefit provided under those programs. Public benefit providers consider an ABLE account to be countable to the extent that the ABLE account balance exceeds $100,000.

ABLE Funds impact needs-based public assistance in a variety of ways. The ABLE Act explicitly addresses how funds in an ABLE account impact Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid eligibility:

SSI Eligibility: Funds in an ABLE account are not countable resources for the purposes of determining eligibility for SSI. Once an ABLE account reaches $100,000, the designated beneficiary’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are suspended. They are not terminated. When the account drops below $100,000, SSI benefits resume.

Medicaid: Where an individual is entitled to receive SSI, but the SSI benefit is suspended because his or her ABLE account has exceeded $100,000, there will be “no impact on Medicaid eligibility.” Medicaid eligibility (including waiver eligibility) and benefit receipt continue uninterrupted.

SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits: On January 6, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture revised the eligibility rules for SNAP. revised rule states that funds in an ABLE account shall be excluded in determining the resources of a SNAP household. Thus, Funds in ABLE accounts are now explicitly excluded for resource counting.

Section 8 Rental Assistance: At this point, The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has issued no guidance on the impact ABLE funds have on Section 8 rental assistance.

States That Offer ABLE Accounts: As of March 1, 2017, there are 18 states that have opened ABLE programs. The first was the Ohio program which opened in June 2016 and was shortly followed by Tennessee, Nebraska, and Florida. By late 2016, Michigan, Oregon, Kentucky, Virginia, Arkansas and Rhode Island had opened programs. In early 2017 Nebraska, North Carolina, Kansas, Illinois, Iowa, Montana, Vermont and Alabama opened programs. Most of these states permit residents of other states to establish ABLE accounts.  However, three states do not permit out-of-state residents to participate in their ABLE program: Kentucky, Florida and Vermont.

Other blog posts discussing ABLE accounts can be found here: New Jersey’s Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act is Now Law; and, SSA Publishes Regulations for ABLE Accounts Owned by SSI Recipients

(This blog post is adapted from information contained in materials distributed at the recent Annual Conference held by the Academy of Special Needs Planners (ASNP). Mr. Vanarelli is a founding member of ASNP.)

For additional information concerning Medicaid and public benefits planning, visit: http://vanarellilaw.com/medicaid-public-benefits-planning/

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