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Missed Opportunities for Financial Wellness Support

As someone who has spent over 35 years working and partnering with people with disabilities who are pursuing equal opportunities so that they can live the lives they choose, I can say confidently that the disability field is doing a disservice to youth and adults with disabilities. Much of my personal focus has been on supporting people to create their own networks that, in turn, can open doors to employment, relationships and participation in the life of their communities. Sadly, in all of my years in the field, and through two graduate degrees, none of my efforts linked people to available resources to support their financial well-being – until nearly a year-and-a-half ago, when I started working with the LEAD Center at National Disability Institute.

Over the years, in the countless disability-related conferences I’ve attended, there have been virtually no sessions that even mention financial capability. In fact, proposals to present on this topic are typically rejected. Not to mention, there are no graduate school courses or staff trainings focused on financial capability either.

Financial education, experiences and support for financial capability must start during childhood and be supported at home, through schools, in communities and by systems that provide long-term supports and services (LTSS). The reality, however, is that this is not standard practices and, at most, people may receive benefits counseling.

For many people who receive community living support from LTSS systems, they have representative payees, do not make decisions about their finances and often only receive a monthly “personal allowance” from their Social Security benefits - with or without some, or all, of their earned income. Consequently, they are unaware of their income and assets, how much of their money is spent or what their options may be.

In proclaiming April as National Financial Capability Month, President Obama asked that “we renew our efforts to support informed financial decisions that will open doors into the middle class and help ensure economic security for all." For most us in the disability field who provide support to people with disabilities, we don’t have efforts to renew. We need to initiate efforts. We need to get started now!

An important first step in this effort occurred in January 2014, when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released new regulations governing home and community-based services (HCBS) provided through state Medicaid programs. These regulations require people who receive HCBS services to control their own personal finances. Even if this wasn’t a requirement, and regardless of whether or not people are in a Medicaid-funded program, developing financial capability is critical.

Perhaps you’re a person with a disability yourself or have a family member with a disability. As with learning any skill, financial capability requires opportunities, experiences and support. People need to gain experience with creating and living within a budget, banking, managing savings, developing and/or maintaining a good credit rating, and so on.

Need resources and suggestions to get started? Learn more about financial capability and economic advancement by visiting: www.LEADCenter.org and www.realeconomicimpact.org

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