Kaellen Hessel has a message for those in Douglas County with disabilities: It is possible to save money for tomorrow.

Kaellen Hessel, advocacy and outreach manager for Oregon Savings Network, presented the Oregon ABLE Savings Plan to more than a dozen people at the Southern Oregon Regional Brokerage on Tuesday.

Hessel said most programs that provide benefits for people with disabilities, such as Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance, limit how much a recipient can have in assets to $2,000 — otherwise, they can lose their benefits.

“That’s not enough for you to live independently,” Hessel said. “You’re not getting your own apartment for that. It was basically forcing people to live in poverty to get health care and other services that they needed.”

The Oregon ABLE Savings Plan gives people with disabilities a legal workaround to that limit, helping increase quality of life and giving them more independence. The program was created in December 2016 and has registered over 2,000 people, who have an average savings account balance of $5,000.

According to Cornell University’s Employment and Disability Institute, 13.9% of people in Douglas County have disabilities and could qualify for the savings account, but Hessel said a lot of people don’t know about it, especially in the rural communities, and she’s trying to reach them.

“We’re still a new program and it takes a while to build trust, especially when you’re talking about the disability community,” Hessel said. “They are used to jumping through lots of hoops and they haven’t been able to save money, really.”

Hessel answered questions about how much and how often account owners could contribute, how the program was built to help people achieve independence through savings, how to transition from a minor’s account to an adult’s account who might still need a guardian or power of attorney to be on the account, and how the funds could be used for costs associated with a death.

Jill Fummerton, executive director of Families Engaging And Thriving Together, helped Hessel arrange the meeting and invite the 180 individuals on the organization mailing list.

“There’s nothing like (the savings plan) because you’re so limited in the amount of assets you can have that there’s really no way to save up for the future without going over your $2,000 maximum,” Fummerton said. “Every person with a disability or their caregiver or guardian needs to be aware of it.”

Charisma Korb, 20, came with her stepmom, Alisha Landolt. Korb said the savings plan will give her a chance to save for a house, which she couldn’t dream about with the asset limit.

“That keeps most people in poverty,” Korb said. “It’s so dumb.”

“It’s really not fair,” Landolt said. “It’s so terrible to say, ‘Oh, you’re disabled — we care enough to take care of you, but we’re not really going to let you get further, or we’re going to hinder it in any way.’ I’m so excited for her to save. That’s really going to benefit her life and it will be legal.”

Janelle Polcyn can be reached at jpolcyn@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4204. Or follow her on Twitter @JanellePolcyn.

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Janelle Polcyn is a reporter at The News-Review, graduated from the University of Texas, and is a podcast enthusiast.

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