By Robin Shaffert, Senior Executive Officer, Individual & Family Support, The Arc
One of the four goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act is economic self-sufficiency. Yet, far too many people with disabilities continue to live in poverty. In 2015, the poverty rate for working aged individuals (16 – 64) with disabilities was 28.5%, compared to a poverty rate of people without disabilities of 12.4%; the poverty rates for children with disabilities are also disproportionately high.
There is no single reason for this high rate of poverty. Similarly, there is no single change that will end poverty for people with disabilities. Employment rates are far too low, and often many people with disabilities who are employed are under-employed in low paying jobs. Many people with disabilities rely on means-tested benefits to finance their supports and services. In fact, the very income and asset eligibility requirement of these benefit programs limit beneficiaries’ ability to earn income and build assets. The passage last year of the Stephen Beck, Jr., Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act provides the first opportunity for people with disabilities to build assets without jeopardizing their benefits from means-tested programs.
Disability-related expenses often create an additional financial burden. In families that have a child with disabilities, parents often reduce their work hours or leave the workforce altogether to care for their child with a disability, resulting in lower family income. More states and localities are enacting paid sick days and paid family leave laws, and more employers are incorporating policies that enable increased workplace flexibility. Each of these efforts should contribute to lowering the poverty rate for people with disabilities and their families.
Proclaiming April 2016 as National Financial Capability Month, President Obama reminded us, “When every American has the tools they need to get ahead and contribute to our country’s success, we are all better off. . . . Ensuring people have the resources to make informed decisions about their finances is critical in this effort, and during National Financial Capability Month, we recommit to equipping individuals with the knowledge and protections necessary to secure a stable financial future for themselves and their families.”
Financial literacy is a critical tool in this fight to reduce poverty in the disability community. Developing financial capability skills should be a goal for young people with disabilities throughout their school years. In the early years, all children should be taught basic concepts related to math and money and should begin to develop decision-making skills. As they grow, the lessons should become more complex to move them towards financial independence. An important way we can support families is to not only guide parents of children with disabilities through the public benefit system but to also help them build skills to stabilize the family’s financial situation.
The Arc and our partners in the disability community are working tirelessly to increase employment and income of people with disabilities. For adults with disabilities, increasing financial capability is an important part of planning for a good and independent life in the community. For more information about creating a plan to Finance the Future, visit The Arc’s Center for Future Planning.