New Tax Law Makes Changes to ABLE Accounts

Families taking advantage of ABLE savings accounts will have a little more flexibility in planning for special needs as a result of the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed into law by President Trump on December 22, 2017. As we previously discussed, ABLE accounts, created by Congress via the passage of the Achieving a Better…

House Tax Plan Could Deal Blow to Families with High Medical Expenses

The tax plan put forward by the Republican-led House of Representatives would eliminate many current deductions, and getting rid of one of them in particular could deal a serious financial blow to individuals with disabilities or their families. The plan proposes eliminating the medical expense deduction, a change that will affect those paying for costly…

Next year, Social Security recipients will see a 2 percent raise in benefits, the largest increase in six years. For Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients, the average monthly benefit will go up from $1,170 to $1,180, not including people who are blind, for whom the monthly rate is significantly higher. For Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries, the average monthly benefit will rise from $735 to $750. But how does the Social Security Administration (SSA) calculate its annual cost of living adjustment (COLA)? The answer is a seemingly arbitrary measure of inflation, long criticized by advocates for the elderly and people with disabilities as unrepresentative of the spending patterns of Social Security beneficiaries. Each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes a variety of different measures of inflation, each of which are tailored to reflect the impact of price changes on different population groups. The SSA, when calculating its annual COLA, relies on a measure of inflation known as Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). Adopted by the SSA in 1975, this Index attempts to measure inflation based on the spending patterns of people living in 1) urban households, 2) for whom at least half of the household’s income comes from clerical or wage occupations, and 3) one of the household earners must have been employed for at least 37 weeks during the previous 12 months. According to the BLS, only about 28 percent of the total U.S. population falls into households that meet this criteria. As very few of these households contain individuals receiving Social Security benefits, it is unclear why the CPI-W is the SSA’s preferred measure of inflation. Many advocates contend that the CPI-W doesn't rise quickly enough to reflect the spending patterns of SSI and SSDI beneficiaries. Ironically, the BLS has constructed – but does not yet use for the COLA – a separate index for measuring inflation for the elderly that tends to record higher rates of inflation, primarily due to increased medical costs. As such, this index also would likely better reflect the economic realities for SSI and SSDI beneficiaries. The BLS, however, warns that this separate index for the elderly is currently experimental, and should be treated with caution. Despite widespread criticism of the SSA’s reliance on the CPI-W, most legislation in recent years has been focused on pushing the SSA to adopt an even stricter form of inflation measurement. The Obama Administration, in both 2013 and 2014, and numerous Republican budget proposals, including the most recent one in the House, have pushed for a new measure known as the “chained CPI.” This measure attempts to calculate how people compensate for increased costs via substitution, i.e., buying one product instead of another. Annual inflation is typically measured as between 0.25 to 0.35 percent less under this measure, according to the New Republic. The Social Security COLA went up just 0.3 percent for 2017 and not at all for 2016. Next year’s increase is primarily the result of recent boosts in energy and food prices. For more on how the SSA calculates COLAs, click here. Click here for frequently asked questions about the CPI-W.

Next year, Social Security recipients will see a 2 percent raise in benefits, the largest increase in six years. For Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients, the average monthly benefit will go up from $1,170 to $1,180, not including people who are blind, for whom the monthly rate is significantly higher. For Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries,…

The amount that can be deposited in an ABLE account each year without jeopardizing public benefits will rise from the current $14,000 to $15,000 starting in 2018. The increase makes these accounts that much more attractive as a way for people with disabilities to shield gifts or income or even use as an alternative to a special needs trust in the right circumstances. The amount that can be deposited in an ABLE account is tied to the federal gift tax exclusion, which will rise from $14,000 to $15,000 in 2018 due to inflation. Created by Congress via the passage of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act in 2014 and modeled after popular 529 college savings accounts, ABLE accounts allow people with disabilities and their families to save up to $100,00.00 in accounts for disability related expenses without jeopardizing their eligibility for Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and other government benefits. Funds in the tax-free savings accounts can be used to pay for qualifying expenses such as the costs of treating the disability or for education, housing and health care, among other things. ABLE accounts may be opened by anyone with a disability as long as the disability began before the person turned 26. Like the 529 savings plans on which they are patterned, ABLE programs are set up by the individual states, although so far most state plans are welcoming the participation of residents of any state. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia now have ABLE programs, according to the ABLE Resource Center.

The amount that can be deposited in an ABLE account each year without jeopardizing public benefits will rise from the current $14,000 to $15,000 starting in 2018. The increase makes these accounts that much more attractive as a way for people with disabilities to shield gifts or income or even use as an alternative to a…

Can Special Needs Trusts Reimburse Family Members for Travel Expenses?

Families of people with special needs often face unusually high travel expenses.  Medical emergencies or other unforeseen circumstances may require travel to care for their loved ones at a moment’s notice.  Or family members may simply need to travel in order to visit the person with special needs. Typically, family members can be reimbursed for…

Unexpected expenses are a regular fact of life for many parents of children with disabilities, but for parents with children entangled in juvenile jail systems, the additional costs can be exorbitant. According to a March 2917 report from the Marshall Project and The Washington Post, 19 state juvenile jail systems regularly bill parents for costs associated with their children’s stays…

Special Needs Trustee

Choosing the right person to serve as trustee of a special needs trust is one of the most important and difficult issues in creating the trust. A trustee typically manages the day-to-day operations of the trust, often making distributions to the trust’s beneficiary, investing the trust’s assets, and paying the trust’s bills – all while…

ABLE Account

ABLE accounts are a great new savings tool for individuals with disabilities, but not all people with disabilities are eligible to open these accounts.  The rules for determining eligibility are for the most part uncomplicated, although one requirement is proving controversial. Created by Congress via the passage of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act in…

People with Disabilities in Natural Disasters

Hurricanes, floods and wildfires have ravaged large swaths of the U.S. this year.  Every major natural disaster disproportionately harms society’s most vulnerable populations, particularly people with disabilities. Hurricane Katrina, for example, left hundreds of thousands with disabilities stranded for days, in some cases weeks, without access to medications, shelter, assisted living devices and other necessities….

Autism and Hospitals

Adolescents and young adults with severe autism are being confined in emergency rooms and hospitals for weeks or even months, sometimes restrained or sedated, due to a shortage of more suitable care options, according to an investigation by Kaiser Health News. It’s “the dirty little secret no one wants to talk about,” says the mother of an 11-year-old…

© 2015 MATTHEW L. MERCER | Attorney at Law

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