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Savings program gives peace of mind to parents of woman with Down syndrome

Michigan’s savings plan for people with disabilities may help this woman reach her goals.

By MiABLE
Lea Wozny earned her certificate of completion in 2019 from Traverse City West Senior High School in Traverse City, Michigan.

When Michigan families discuss the MiABLE savings program for people with disabilities, they often use the term “peace of mind.”

Carrie and Tony Wozny, who live in the Leelanau County community of Cedar, are no different.

Although they and their daughter, Lea, who has Down syndrome, have yet to open a MiABLE account that would allow Lea to accumulate savings to pay for a wide range of living expenses, they take comfort in knowing it’s an option.

“We’re older parents, and we really battle with what’s going to happen with Lea,” said Carrie Wozny, 60. “We’re hoping she can get a job to become self-sufficient, and MiABLE could help her do that. We want her to feel like she’s part of this community where she grew up.”

A savings account with MiABLE helps pay for a wide range of expenses related to maintaining the health, independence and quality of life for people with disabilities.

The freedom to pursue life goals

Lea Wozny, 20, earned her certificate of completion in 2019 from Traverse City West Senior High School, and she continues to attend the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District’s Life Skills Center for students ages 16 to 26 who have cognitive impairments.

She said she hopes to eventually secure employment, possibly at a downtown Traverse City shop that makes soaps and lotions. She previously spent four weeks in a work experience program at the boutique.

Her employment plans were put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She decided to continue her education at the Life Skills Center virtually via Google Meet.

“Although she enjoys meeting with her classmates and teacher online, she looks forward to the day when everyone can go back to face-to-face school, and then she will pursue her goal of looking for employment,” Carrie Wozny said.

Lea Wozny also dreams of moving out of her parents’ house and into a condo with some friends, like her brother, Drew, 24, did.

But for that to happen, she’ll need steady income for everyday living and savings to pay for additional expenses that arise, her parents said.

That’s where MiABLE — which the Michigan Department of Treasury has administered since the program was put into practice in 2016 — could come in.

A ‘$2,000 hammer’

Typically, individuals with disabilities can’t have more than $2,000 in assets to receive public benefits, such as the monthly Supplemental Security Income payments that Lea began getting when she turned 18.

But, unlike many other forms of savings, MiABLE doesn’t affect eligibility for Supplemental Security Income and other government assistance — provided the account balance doesn’t exceed $100,000.

While living with her parents, Lea Wozny has little need for a stockpile of cash or other assets, but that would change if she were on her own.

“There’d always be that $2,000 hammer hanging over her head,” Carrie Wozny said. That’s why she and Tony Wozny, who is 62 and a recent DTE Energy retiree, have continued to study the MiABLE program and consider opening an account on Lea’s behalf.

“Now that she’s 20, it’s time to be an adult,” Carrie Wozny said. “Work is an important thing that we look at as part of that, and with MiABLE, we finally saw a way to get past that $2,000 limit in a savings account. It’s really given us peace of mind.”

MiABLE account holders can choose from various investment options, ranging from conservative to aggressive, in which their savings can grow tax-free. In addition, they — and other contributors — can receive a Michigan tax deduction on their contributions, and withdrawals are also not taxed if used for qualified expenses.

Qualified MiABLE expenses include those related to education, transportation, housing, employment training and support, health and wellness, assistive technology and personal support services, quality-of-life improvements, financial management, legal fees, and funeral or burial expenses.

Pictured: R. Scott de Varona, MiABLE program director for the Michigan Department of Treasury

R. Scott de Varona, MiABLE program director for the Michigan Department of Treasury, noted that, in general, individuals who became disabled or blind before age 26 and are entitled to Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance qualify as MiABLE account beneficiaries.

“As long as the person meets those criteria, they can have a MiABLE account at any age, meaning that younger beneficiaries have the advantage of time for their investments to grow,” he said, adding that anyone — including other family members and friends — can contribute to a MiABLE account.

The total annual contribution is capped at $15,000, but beneficiaries who are employed — as Lea Wozny aims to become — can contribute an additional $12,760 a year.

More information about MiABLE is available at miable.org.

Members of the editorial and news staff of the USA TODAY Network were not involved in the creation of this content.
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