Full Participation Includes Financial Capability

April is National Financial Capability Month in the United States, highlighting the value of high-quality financial education to improving Americans’ financial capability. Financial capability is one facet of full participation in the community and people with disabilities have the right to control their money and make financial decisions. In addition to access to competitive employment and wages, they need the same financial knowledge and skills as those without disabilities – to manage money, create a spending plan, effectively use banks, reduce debt, and use credit wisely.

NIDILRR-funded research and development to support financial capability includes interventions for individuals with disabilities and their families to build that financial knowledge and skill while accessing benefits and programs. This research also examines the barriers to financial capability, including access to competitive employment and disparities in earnings. Here are just a few of the current projects exploring this topic.

ABLE to Save

One project is studying Financial Engagements as a Gateway to Community Participation. This project examines the promise of ABLE accounts in increasing community participation for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and cognitive disabilities. The ABLE Act of 2014 allows an estimated seven million individuals with significant disabilities to establish tax advantaged saving accounts exempt from means-tested requirements for federal public benefits (SSI, Medicaid, and SNAP), and prohibits reduction of public resources when an account is established. Individuals who contribute to ABLE accounts are able to build financial independence and set goals for the future.

Access to Competitive Employment

Competitive employment, where people with disabilities are compensated for their full- or part-time work, is key to financial stability. People with disabilities can access competitive employment, even while they receive financial benefits such as SSI/SSDI. The project Securing Employment and Economic Keys to Stability (SEEKS) delivers services to individuals applying for SSA disability benefits while concurrently receiving services from an employment specialist to obtain employment and a comprehensive benefits planner through the Center for Independent Living (CIL) system in partnership with the department of vocational rehabilitation. Explore more NIDILRR-funded research in competitive employment.

Building Financial Wellness

Another project is Testing an Intervention to Promote Financial Wellness Among Adults with Psychiatric Disabilities. Building Financial Wellness is a curriculum that helps people with psychiatric disabilities to develop money management skills that can promote their overall recovery, well-being, and health. It guides participants in recognizing what triggers spending, how using credit leads to debt, and ways to cope with challenging feelings about money. Participants also learn to set attainable financial goals. Learning occurs in a context of acceptance and encouragement aimed at increasing participants’ sense of control over their personal finances. 

Planning for the Future

Another project, Virtual Future Planning for Adults with Intellectual and/or Developmental Disabilities and Aging Families, is testing an intervention called The Future Is Now, which may help individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families plan as caregivers age. This includes plans for financial and residential stability.

Barriers to Financial Capability

To examine research in barriers to financial capability, we explored publications from the NIDILRR grantee community indexed in our REHABDATA database. We found abstracts for more than 70 publications produced over the last 10 years on this topic.

Elsewhere in the Community

Several agencies and organizations are focused on building financial capacity among people with disabilities and their families:

  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) published a toolkit called Your Money, Your Goals, which agencies and organizations can use to promote financial capability in their communities. It includes a companion guide for people with disabilities.
  • The National Disability Institute operates the ABLE National Resource Center, the leading source of objective, independent information and best practices related to tax-advantaged ABLE savings accounts and federal and state-related ABLE programs and activities.
  • NDI also offers the Financial Resilience Center (FRC) is an online information hub to help people with disabilities and chronic health conditions build their financial resilience and navigate through difficult times, like the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The Arc hosts the Center for Future Planning, with resources to help people with I/DD and their families plan for independence with topics such as making financial and housing decisions, building relationships with friends and partners, and paying for things. 
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