Savings program offers financial independence for those with disabilities
MiABLE savings can be used for disability-related living expenses, education and more.
Like his paintings, Ari Chekan’s future is happy and bright.
He graduated from Birmingham Seaholm High School on time and with honors. He works part time at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. He lives on his own in a condo he loves. And he just sold his first painting.
Financially, he relies on his paycheck, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid — and a MiABLE savings account his mother opened when her son, who has autism, turned 18.
“I know Ari will always need to be supported and watched over. But at least the means are now in place to make him independent for the rest of his life — and MiABLE is a big part of that,” said Michelle Sage Chekan, his mother.
Typically, individuals with disabilities can’t have more than $2,000 in assets without losing critical assistance such as Medicaid and SSI. But with a MiABLE account, their savings can grow to $100,000 without fear of losing those benefits.
“MiABLE is an amazing financial vehicle, and I can’t say enough good things about it,” Sage Chekan said.
Inside the Friendship Circle
Born in 2000 with several congenital heart defects, Chekan underwent four open-heart surgeries before reaching 18 months. Delayed in meeting developmental milestones from the start, he was diagnosed with autism at the age of 4.
Soon after, the family turned to the Friendship Circle of Michigan for help.
The nonprofit organization in West Bloomfield provides assistance and support to 3,000 individuals with special needs and their families with more than 40 recreational, social, educational and vocational programs.
“Our hope is to create friendships in the lives of individuals with special needs and those facing isolation while providing an opportunity to become a contributing member of the community,” said Bassie Shemtov, Friendship Circle director. “We try to promote an inclusive community that values all individuals regardless of the challenges they face.”
Sage Chekan said her son participated in dozens of Friendship Circle programs throughout his childhood and those experiences played a key role in developing his social and emotional skills.
Now 21, Chekan takes part twice weekly in the Friendship Circle’s Soul Studio Art Program, where he creates artwork in marker, watercolor and acrylic. One of his paintings, “Patterned Sky and the Trees,” recently sold for $275 at a Soul Studio Gallery exhibit.
“I’m so excited my first artwork was sold,” he said.
Save without losing
Sage Chekan is a pianist and holds a law degree. She said she often helps families who have adult children with special needs navigate an often-confusing world beyond the K-12 educational system.
“People don’t really know what avenues are out there as far as services for their children,” Sage Chekan said. “They’re not sure where to start: how to apply for disability, how Medicaid works, how to start the process for community and mental health and the services you’re allowed to have.
“I feel it’s really important for me to help take the knowledge that I’ve gained over the years and assist people in navigating the complex system and understand the benefits they’re entitled to,” she said.
Many don’t understand how MiABLE can help.
“You get a disability check and a paycheck and you’re almost at $2,000 at any one time. It’s very difficult to live that way,” Sage Chekan said.
Thanks to MiABLE, those with a qualifying disability that began before age 26 can save up to $15,000 each year in a MiABLE account without affecting their government benefits. That money can come from any source, including family or other loved ones. If you have a job, you can save up to another $12,880 annually.
MiABLE savings can be used for living expenses, education, housing, transportation, assistive technology, health and wellness, and many other approved expenses.
MiABLE account holders can choose from various investment options, ranging from conservative to aggressive, in which their savings can grow tax free. The program is administered by the Michigan Department of Treasury.
“MiABLE offers financial peace of mind for thousands of individuals with disabilities and their families,” said Scott de Varona, MiABLE program director.
Since MiABLE launched in 2016, 6,100 accounts have been opened on behalf of beneficiaries with disabilities, with a combined total of $30.3 million in savings as of July 31, 2021.
Sage Chekan said she was thrilled after discovering she could roll her son’s 529 college savings plan into his MiABLE account.
“The fact that he could use his savings account for a down payment on his condo was just huge,” she said. “I cry every time I talk about the fact that now he’ll always have a roof over his head.”
And every month, the Chekans make a deposit into his MiABLE account.
“Every little bit helps … trust me,” Sage Chekan said.
More information about MiABLE is available at miable.org.