LINCOLN — When her 2-year-old son was diagnosed with severe autism, one of Cathy Martinez’s first thoughts was who would care for Jacob when she and her husband are gone.
Soon, she said, she will get some help with that dilemma.
On June 30, the Nebraska Treasurer’s Office will launch a new, tax-deductible savings plan for families of children with disabilities.
The Enable Savings Plan is one of the first established in the country. It will allow families to set aside funds in a tax-free savings account for the future care of a loved one without jeopardizing that person’s Medicaid and Social Security benefits.
By federal law, if a person had more than $2,000 in assets, they would lose such benefits, Martinez said, forcing disabled adults into poverty so they could continue to qualify for services.
Her family was forced into bankruptcy after spending $300,000 of their own money for the initial care for Jacob, now 13. In 1994, state law was changed to require insurance coverage of autism services.
Martinez and other advocates said Wednesday that the Enable Savings Plan will allow families the opportunity to set aside funds — without risking penalties — for the future care of their children or to allow them to get educations or buy or rent homes.
“This is all about greater independence,” said Brandon Verzal of Lincoln, whose daughter was the victim of shaken baby syndrome at a day care center when the family lived in Texas.
Martinez said Jacob is nonverbal and probably won’t be able to work as an adult. But the savings in his account could pay for life in a group home or with one of his siblings, she said.
At a press conference Wednesday morning, State Treasurer Don Stenberg urged Nebraskans to spread the word about the Enable program, which is similar to savings plans already offered to cover college expenses.
State Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln sponsored the 2015 bill that authorized the program.
Under the terms of the program, if the state of residence pays for an account owner’s medical costs incurred after an account is opened, the state will receive reimbursement of the balance of an account upon the account owner’s death.
For more information, call the Treasurer’s Office at 402-471-2455 or visit the websiteEnableSavings.com.