This blog post is part two in a series on lessons learned from the asset building community to help advance financial stability for persons with disabilities and the vision of National Disability Institute (NDI), a leading national non-profit focused on building better economic futures for individuals with disabilities and their families. Persons with disabilities experience one of the highest poverty rates of any underserved population in America, currently double the national poverty rate. Michael Morris is the Executive Director and Dr. Johnette Hartnett is the Director of Strategic Partnership Development for National Disability Institute. You can visit them on the web at www.realeconomicimpact.org.
The power of collaboration was an important lesson National Disability Institute learned from the asset development community early in our work to help the nearly 1 in 3 Americans with disabilities living in poverty take steps toward brighter financial futures. The asset building community became an inspiration to expand our network to include not only disability organizations and advocates but also a vast network of public and private partners at the federal, state and local level to affect real change for persons with disabilities and their families. We needed to work with partners doing community asset development, financial education and tax assistance work to promote better inclusion of persons with disabilities from the inside out to affect meaningful outcomes and sustainable change.
Promote policy change through demonstration projects. Through the asset development community’s demonstration project for Individual Development Accounts (IDAs), grew the Assets for Independent (AFI) Act and the federal AFI program, providing grants to community-based nonprofits and state and local governments to help low-income individuals and families take steps out of poverty through a successful savings initiative. Harnessing the power of demonstration projects to test innovative strategies, National Disability Institute has been working with the US Department of Labor for the past ten years to improve employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities as a critical step towards financial stability. National Disability Institute is the training and technical assistance lead on the US Department of Labor’s Disability Employment Initiative (DEI), a program that by September 2012 will have awarded $60 million to 22 states to bundle together employment goals for youth and adults with disabilities and asset development activities. Asset development activities include financial education and financial coaching, use of favorable tax provisions, individual development accounts, and Social Security work incentives, as well as access to affordable and accessible financial services. With leadership from the Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee on Labor, HHS, and Education, the demonstration “DEI” funding is supporting public-private partnerships and identifying new pathways to a better economic future for the target audience building on the infrastructure of the public workforce system and the more than 2,800 One-Stop Career Centers nationwide.
Taking a page from the asset development community’s success in advocating for increased asset limits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (formerly known as food stamps), National Disability Institute also champions raising the asset limits for SSI and Medicaid to allow individuals with disabilities and their families an opportunity to save for retirement, education and unexpected expenses. We have also been strong advocates of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which currently has bipartisan support in the House and Senate. With more than 150 House cosponsors, the proposed legislation will use the infrastructure of 529 plans to allow adults with disabilities and/or families with sons or daughters with disabilities to set aside funds for other than higher education goals such as housing, transportation, and technology without impacting eligibility for public benefits that are means tested. The focus is on saving and asset development for individuals who may not go on to higher education.
DEI holds great promise for young individuals with disabilities and is certain to teach us a great deal more as the program is fully implemented. Check back in later this week as we share our third lesson learned from working with the asset building field.