MiABLE Puts Detroiter with Autism on Road to His Own Car, Independence

Contributed by MiABLE (Michigan Department of Treasury)

Edward Lofton has big dreams — and they all include 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. 

Like other individuals with disabilities, Lofton once was allowed only $2,000 to his name. If he saved more, he could have critical government benefits such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income taken away.

But MiABLE changed all that. Now, anyone with a qualifying disability that began before the age of 26 and their families can contribute up to $15,000 a year in a MiABLE account. If employed, the annual limit is $27,880.

The good news: 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.

Saving for today – and tomorrow

Lofton was diagnosed as a toddler with Asperger’s syndrome, which can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. Lofton’s other medical issues include severe depression, seizure disorder and digestive issues.

From the beginning, his mother, Joanna, was his biggest advocate.

“Sometimes the sauce of life is running over the plate, but we’re truly blessed compared to a lot of families,” said Joanna, whose husband, Charles, died when her son was 7. She works hard to ensure Lofton has the tools and resources he needs to live his fullest life. 

Financial independence for her son prompted her to open a MiABLE savings account when the state-administered program was launched in 2016. 

“With a MiABLE account, you can have a life that’s fuller, more fruitful and full of opportunities. They can have the life they desire to live,” Joanna said. MiABLE account holders can choose from various investment options, ranging from conservative to aggressive, in which their savings can grow tax-free. In addition, they 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, more than 5,400 accounts have been opened by or on behalf of beneficiaries with disabilities, with a combined total of $25 million in savings.

Working for a living

Lofton attended Oakland Community College several years ago and hoped to become a civil engineer. Four years ago, he started working at Ford’s Advanced Engineering Center in Dearborn. The automaker was the first employer to team with the Autism Alliance of Michigan   (AAoM) in 2016 to give job-ready candidates a chance to try a job and be recruited. Five years later, 20 people are working there — including Lofton.

“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. 

Allen said MiABLE plays a key role in gaining financial independence for all eligible Michiganders.

Peace of mind

Before MiABLE, many individuals with disabilities and their families were forced into poverty or hid their assets to avoid losing Medicaid and other benefits. 

Joanna Lofton, who now works as an AAoM adult and community resource specialist, said she hopes other parents see there’s an opportunity for their children to have a life without fear of poverty. 

“Individuals with disabilities have dreams just like their neurotypical peers. With MiABLE, those dreams can become reality,” she said.

Lofton uses his savings to buy groceries, take his mom to dinner, travel — and save 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.