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New law creates tax-free savings accounts for disabled Georgians
Lee Hawkins
State Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville

Disabled Georgians will have access to tax-free savings accounts after the creation of Georgia STABLE.

The program offers 401(k)-style accounts that are exempt from state and federal taxes if used for education, health care, housing and transportation, according to a Wednesday announcement from Gov. Nathan Deal’s office.

STABLE is modeled on federal legislation and will be managed by the Georgia Achieving a Better Life Experience Program Corp., a state-chartered organization created in 2016 through legislation sponsored by state Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville.

“While many people with a disability lead a productive life, the passage of the ABLE legislation will allow many more to pursue their dreams of living independently and pursuing a career,” Hawkins said in the Wednesday statement.

Georgia Department of Community Health Commissioner Frank Berry said the program is one of the “tools available to individuals that will lead them to a life of greater independence.”

Gainesville native Randy Owens, who was present for the signing ceremony on Wednesday, called the new program a big deal for disabled Georgians. Owens himself was hit by a car when he was 2 years old, almost killing him and leaving him with permanent mobility issues.

“This is a big deal for a people with a disability because we’re only allowed to earn so much and save so much. We’ll now be able to save more and it won’t be held against us,” Owens said. “It’s just really exciting to know that I’m part of this bill and now this bill can help thousands of other people.”

Owens helped start Our Neighbor, a nonprofit dedicated to providing housing for disabled residents of Gainesville, and Randy and Friends, a nonprofit that provides job training for disabled people.

Randy and Friends operates the Rooster’s Perch Cafe on Bradford Street, which employs disabled people, and has a training center on Woodsmill Road.

The nonprofit has helped people get jobs at J&J Foods and Kroger, Owens said, and with STABLE, they’ll be able to save more of that income without jeopardizing their other benefits.

Eligible Georgians can use the accounts to save and invest their cash without losing eligibility for other benefits programs, including Medicaid, Supplemental Social Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance, based on their income.

“Those programs might be taken from us” with too much income, Owens said. “Now we can save more money to help with our medical bills, housing and just help us with car payments.”

Account holders and their friends and family can contribute to STABLE accounts, which can hold up to $445,000. Contributions are capped at $14,000 each year.

“I think it will allow the disabled people to feel like they can live more independently – that they could actually go out and buy a house or go out and buy a car,” Owens said. “Abled people take for granted that they can go to the doctor whenever they want, they can go to the dentist. This will give disabled people a lot more freedom.”