Enable program helps Nebraskans with disabilities and their families save for care 

Tax-advantaged savings plans help people without risking benefits

By: - June 15, 2023 5:45 am

Former Gov. Pete Ricketts and State Treasurer John Murante celebrate the state-managed Enable Savings Plans offered in Nebraska, which can be used by people with disabilities and their caregivers to pay some costs of care. At right is Stacy Pfeifer with the Treasurer’s Office. With them are Kurt and Melissa Kolm of Lincoln. Melissa is holding their daughter, Hadley. (Courtesy of Nebraska State Treasurer’s Office)

LINCOLN — Like many people caring for loved ones with developmental disabilities, Kurt and Melissa Kolm of Lincoln have worried whether the checks they deposited in a loved one’s bank account might eclipse the total assets allowed to remain eligible for public health and disability benefits.  

Melissa has an older sister with special needs and cares for her own daughter, Hadley, 8, who has Down syndrome. Daily, they navigate the tangle of rules and laws governing the state and federal programs paying for basic care. They also plan and save for the possibility of their loved one outliving them.

Such families now have help from the State of Nebraska and its tax-advantaged savings accounts for people with disabilities and their caregivers. State-managed Enable Savings Plans, which came to Nebraska seven years ago, work much like the state’s better-known college savings plans.

These plans, handled by the State Treasurer’s Office, let qualifying people save and pay tax-free for housing, transportation, education, employment help, assistive technology, support services, wellness, financial and administrative services, legal oversight, health care and end-of-life costs. 

Stacy Pfeifer, who oversees Nebraska’s Enable plans for the Treasurer’s Office, said some people who receive disability benefits from Social Security can have only $2,000 to $4,000 in financial assets before worrying about losing benefits. 

How they help

Nebraska’s savings plans let families set aside up to $100,000 for disability-related needs without risking their access to Medicaid or disability benefits that take months to years to secure. Parents seek them so loved ones have income streams after their adult caregivers die.

How to sign up

Sign up for an Enable Savings Plan account on the program’s website, which also lists qualifying disabilities: https://www.enablesavings.com.

“If you have somebody in your family with special needs, it’s a no-brainer,” Kurt Kolm said of his family’s Enable plan for Hadley. “This plan allows them to have funds in place and keep their benefits so that they don’t have to scrape by on a daily basis.”

People with disabilities who receive Social Security or Social Security and Disability Insurance are eligible, Pfeifer said. Others can qualify if a doctor diagnoses them with a “marked or severe functional limitation” that has lasted or is expected to last more than 12 months, or will result in death. 

The program is for someone who has had such a disability before age 26. Beginning in 2026, the accounts will be available to those with a disability that occurred before age 46, based on a change made in federal law last December. That will expand the program to older veterans and people disabled later in life.

Who can help

Nebraskans have already opened more than 3,600 Enable accounts, which carry an annual cost of $45 in fees. The state’s disability-related accounts manage about $33 million in assets. Pfeifer and State Treasurer John Murante have said they want to raise public awareness of the program.

One reason: The program changed in November to make it easier to start and manage an account, allowing parents, grandparents, spouses, siblings and representative payees to administer the accounts. The program had previously been limited to people with disabilities, guardians and people with power of attorney. 

People can invest money put into their Enable accounts in a variety of ways, from investment accounts, which carry a risk of loss, to more conservative options such as checking or savings accounts.    

Contributors to Enable accounts qualify for state income tax deductions of up to $10,000 a year. The Nebraska Investment Council monitors how the funds are invested and a private company, Ascensus, keeps records and provides customer service for account holders. 

The program operates similarly to a flexible spending plan for health insurance, Kurt Kolm said. He makes purchases for his daughter using a debit card, and they keep receipts in case they need to submit one. For them, feeling a little more prepared for what’s next is worthwhile.

“While we love Hadley to death and want someone to take excellent care of her when we’re gone, knowing they won’t have to be burdened is important,” he said.

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Aaron Sanderford
Aaron Sanderford

Political reporter Aaron Sanderford has tackled various news roles in his 20-plus year career. He has reported on politics, crime, courts, government and business for the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star. He also worked as an assignment editor and editorial writer. He was an investigative reporter at KMTV.

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