Edward Lofton was diagnosed as a toddler with a form of autism spectrum disorder called Asperger’s syndrome. But that’s not stopping him from working toward his big dreams — like buying a Ford.
“I have things now that I’m looking forward to and that I can actually do now … like purchasing my own car and condo,” said 28-year-old Lofton, a Detroit resident who works part time at Ford Motor Co.
Many individuals with disabilities are allowed only $2,000 to their name before government benefits such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income are taken away.
MiABLE was started to change that. It is a savings program administered by the Michigan Department of Treasury that allows anyone with a qualifying disability that began before age 26 and their families to contribute up to $15,000 a year in a MiABLE account. If the account holder is employed, the annual limit is $27,880.
And there’s a tremendous opportunity for growth without strict limitation. The account can grow to $100,000 without jeopardizing access to government assistance.
“MiABLE gives roughly 300,000 people with disabilities in Michigan something they’ve never, ever had before: freedom to save for the future,” said R. Scott de Varona, MiABLE program director.
Asperger’s syndrome can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. Lofton also experiences severe depression, seizure disorder and digestive issues.
Lofton’s mother, Joanna, has always been his biggest advocate. Her husband died when her son was 7. She wants nothing more than to make sure that Lofton has everything he needs to live his fullest life.
Especially important to Joanna is financial independence for her son, so she opened a MiABLE savings account when the program launched in 2016.
MiABLE offers various investment options from conservative to aggressive. Savings can grow tax-free. Additionally, account holders can receive a Michigan tax deduction on their contributions, and withdrawals are also not taxed if used for qualified expenses.
Qualified MiABLE expenses include education, housing, transportation, employment training and support, assistive technology and personal support services, financial management and quality-of-life improvements.
Since MiABLE launched in 2016, 5,446 accounts have been opened with a total of $25 million in savings as of March 17.
“The number of MiABLE accounts has grown exponentially in the last two years, which is just amazing. But we know there are still many others with special needs who can benefit from this savings tool,” de Varona said.
Four years ago, Lofton began working at Ford’s Advanced Engineering Center in Dearborn. Ford was the first employer to team with the Autism Alliance of Michigan in 2016 to give job-ready candidates a chance to try a job and be recruited.
“There are so many talented people with autism looking for an opportunity to work, to make friends and to live their lives to the fullest,” said Colleen Allen, CEO of the Autism Alliance of Michigan.
Joanna Lofton, who now works at the alliance, hopes that other parents will hear about MiABLE and take advantage of the program so they can give their children the opportunity to have a life without fear of poverty or loss of Medicaid and other benefits.
Aside from the basics like groceries, taking his mom to dinner and travel, Lofton is saving for a Ford SUV that he plans to buy as soon as he gets his driver’s license.
“I have peace of mind knowing Edward can have a good life. MiABLE lets you dream beyond the box the system puts you into. … That makes a huge difference,” his mother said.
To learn more about MiABLE, visit miable.org.