Student Spotlight: Why I Created a Social Enterprise Supporting Individuals with Special Needs

Picture1 (1) (2)Neil Jones is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio and is a Notre Dame Sophomore living in Knott Hall. An IT Management major and Entrepreneurship minor, he is the founder of Engraved Tradition, a social venture supporting individuals with special needs.  He is an advocate for the passing of the ABLE Act. Why? His story is below.

Having a sibling with special needs changes you. It changes the way you interact with others. It changes the way you think. It changes the way you see the world.

It also opens your mind to the countless problems and limitations that those with special needs face on a daily basis. Under current law, individuals with special needs are forced to be dependent on government assistance. The ABLE Act will change this. The ABLE Act will empower the disabled to gain control of their destinies and begin to write their own story.

Currently, in order to qualify for Social Security, individuals with special needs can neither have more than $2,000 in total assets if single nor $3,000 if married. The original limitation was set in 1930 at $1,500, then minimally raised to $2,000 in 1989 and has not since changed. In addition, an individual’s monthly income must be below the federal poverty line of $850.

These limitations essentially relegate individuals to lifelong government dependence and poverty. The current law keeps people like my little brother, Daniel, from pursuing full-time employment. If Daniel worked and earned more than $850 a month, he would lose his social security and Medicaid benefits.

The current policy keeps Daniel from getting a job, working hard, and being “like his older brother.”

This policy also limits families and other individuals from financially supporting anyone with special needs. Essentially, we cannot help those who need the most help out of all of us.

The Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE) is an addition to Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code. Essentially, any money in this account is “blind” to the $2,000 total asset ceiling. The 529 ABLE account acts as a checking account. The funds can be used for “qualifying disability expenses” like rent, groceries, transportation costs, and entertainment, to name a few.

The assets in 529 ABLE will supplement, not replace, social security benefits. With the addition of 529 ABLE account to the Internal Revenue Code, my brother and his friends will no longer live in fear of succeeding at their jobs, working a 40 hour work week, or earning living to supporting himself.

Haven, a social enterprise in Glascow, is committed to providing sustainable  employment and development opportunities to disabled people.

Haven, a social enterprise in Glasgow, is committed to providing sustainable employment and development opportunities to disabled people.

With the passing of the ABLE Act, the scope of social entrepreneurship changes drastically. Thousands of abled individuals will enter the workforce, finally able to work. Social ventures that employ the disabled will be a necessity. In addition, ventures that employ the disabled will become more sustainable and viable as their workforce stabilizes.

For example, instead of having four employees each work 20 hours a week, now two employees will be able to each work 40 hours a week because they will no longer disqualify from government benefits. As a result, employee turnover will be minimized and company culture will strengthen as those with disabilities no longer feel “different” from the “normal” employee.

The ABLE Act positively impacts traditional enterprises as well. Firms will be able to hire an individual with special needs full time. As a result, the individual with special needs will be able to obtain strong job experience, and both the new employee and the traditional employee will be able to learn from each other. Companies can brand themselves as an “Abled” company, thereby winning business from the socially-conscious millennials by employing the disabled.

With the passing of the ABLE Act, thousands of abled employees will enter the workforce, ready to be challenged, to grow, and earn their own living. Isn’t that what we all aspire to?  Danny does, too.

If you are shopping for unique gift items this holiday season, consider Neil’s Etsy store, Engraved Tradition, for a one-of-a-kind engraved wooden phone case featuring the Notre Dame Fight Song.

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