For most of the history of humanity, a group of people have struggled for attention, dignity, and the rights of those around them. They live in your neighborhood; you might even be friends or related to them; it might even be you. These men and women, girls and boys, live with a physical or intellectual disability, or mental illness.
These people used to fly under the radar, but no more. They, their families, and allies are building a movement that is gaining ground every day, helping them become financially independent and live the lives they want to – and deserve to -- live. I am proud to be part of that movement.
As a public servant, I have been thrilled to visit special needs classrooms and start the conversation about the importance of money, the things we need to survive, how to prioritize need and "wants," and setting goals for spending and saving. Financial savvy is increasingly becoming critical for this population.
I am pleased to see how government policy can have a positive impact on this community. For example, the ABLE Act (Achieve a Better Life Experience) allows people with disabilities to save up to $15,000 per year for disability-related expenses without losing disability benefits. ABLE accounts will encourage people to get meaningful employment without the fears of losing benefits. My colleagues and I at the Department of Banking and Securities have been working to help the Department of Treasury in getting word of this program out to communities throughout Pennsylvania. There is still more work to be done to make sure the disability community knows these accounts are available and can help in the march towards independent living.
In addition, the Governor's Advisory Committee on People with Disabilities is working to address the needs of the disability community and addressing the roles different government agencies can play in meeting these needs. I am honored to serve as Secretary Robin L. Wiessmann's designee to this committee. Most members of the committee either have a disability themselves or a family member with one. I have a 14-year-old son with autism. I know first-hand the challenges my family faces, and I watch many of my friends from that "circle" struggle with some very distinctive challenges.
The Committee is looking at the barriers for people with disabilities: housing, education, employment, transportation, health care; and their direct link to financial capability. It is also important that members of this community are made aware of the dangers of financial fraud, ID theft, and other scams because so many of them are taken advantage of because of a disability.
It is especially meaningful to me to be able to take an established program from our department and tailor it to for a special needs classroom. Our department's "Save and Invest PA!" program -- which was designed to help high school and college students learn about money, investing, and saving early for retirement – is now available for classrooms and groups who work with members of the disability community.
My colleagues and I have also helped train counselors and early intervention staff from the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation about special curriculum that exists about financial capability developed specifically for the disability community. You can learn more in a series of YouTube videos:
The Department of Banking and Securities may not be the apparent choice for resources for this population, but as programs for people with disabilities have evolved to promote independence, so too must their understanding of financial basics evolve to ensure success. Through both policy initiatives like Employment First, and through government that works initiatives such as the PA State Agency Financial Exchange (PA $AFE), I am proud that we are part of something bigger, something about which I am passionate. PA $AFE – one of the four cornerstones of Governor Wolf's Consumer Financial Protection Initiative -- brings together more than 20 state government agencies, complementing each other's strengths in ways that may not always seem obvious. I'm grateful for the opportunities. And I swear, I'm learning more from some of these kids and adults than they are from me.
If you would like to learn more about this work or about PA $AFE, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.