For Emily Ross, the American Dream of buying a home seemed like an unattainable pipe dream for most of her life.
Being legally blind and receiving federal benefits, Ross knew all-too-well that saving more than $2,000 for a down payment would disqualify her from important benefits like monthly Social Security Disability Insurance payments (SSDI).
But the financial landscape changed, and so did her opportunity in 2016. That’s when the Oregon Treasury Savings Network launched the Oregon ABLE Savings Plan. Under federal law, money saved through ABLE plans does not jeopardize any state or federal benefits. ABLE savings can be used to pay for anything that improves the health, independence, or quality of life for people with disabilities – including housing.
She began saving for a down payment, and took advantage of the separate Individual Development Account (IDA) program through the Portland Housing Center. People who qualify and save money in an IDA can get matching dollars.
It all came together in 2020. Fast forward to today, and Ross – who works as a Work Incentive Planning Assistance Coordinator for the nonprofit Disability Rights Oregon – is the proud owner of a house in Beaverton, where she lives with her two dogs.
She loves her big bedroom and the fact the house is her own, after previously living with roommates. She laughs that it’s one of the few houses in her neighborhood with a two-car garage. “And I’m the girl who can’t drive,” she said.
In her professional capacity, she shares her homebuying experience with other Oregonians with disabilities – who often are surprised to learn how helpful an Oregon ABLE account can be. The law says anybody whose age of disability onset occurred before 26 is eligible to have an account, and efforts are under way in Congress to raise that age limit.
“What I tell them is my experience. I learned a lot, and how important it is to have a goal in mind and what you can do to make the goal happen,” she said. “You can’t feel like you can’t do it. You have to do the work, and there will be some disappointments along the way, but the right one will come along.”
Not everybody may be able to buy a house, she said, but there are other dreams to save for -- and turn into reality.
“Sometimes it’s the little things, like maybe a sound system that can help you to calm down. It is based on what the individual needs for them to better their life, and that’s what Oregon ABLE is all about.”
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