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Maine launches a new checking account to help expand banking options for Mainers with disabilities

FILE - This file photo taken Tuesday, May 3, 2011 shows a Visa card in a wallet in Richardson, Texas.
LM Otero
FILE - This file photo taken Tuesday, May 3, 2011 shows a Visa card in a wallet in Richardson, Texas.

The State of Maine has launched a new program, thought to be the first of its kind in the nation, to expand and simplify banking options for Mainers living with disabilities.

It's called Maine ABLE Benefit Checking.

The program was born from the federal "Achieving a Better Life Experience" - or ABLE Act of 2014. Prior to that act, people who received disability benefits, such as Medicaid or Social Security, were effectively prevented from saving any money for life expenses.

"If you saved even just several thousand dollars, you might lose your social security, and I think everyone understood that that was a negative policy outcome," says Maine State Treasurer Henry Beck.

Beck says that meant that people with disabilities, or their guardians, were unable to save up for a car or other life expense, which meant that people were barely getting by, and needing even more help to deal with various emergencies.

Unlike other ABLE programs to come from that same 2014 legislation, Beck says Maine's program is unique in that it allows people who receive disability benefits, to save and manage their money in a simple checking account, rather than through the special, complex investment programs created by other states.

"Because we heard from people with disabilities that they really desired something simpler and more accessible," Beck says. Additionally, he says it was important for people to have access to an actual brick and mortar institution, as well as a standard debit card.

“Our partnership with the Office of the State Treasurer is a unique public-private collaboration that allows us to increase access to banking,” says Bob Montgomery-Rice, President and CEO of Bangor Savings Bank.

“Creating and offering this program supports the financial independence and well-being of Maine’s residents with disabilities and reflects our ongoing commitment to provide better banking experiences for all community members.”

Bangor Savings Bank has been contracted for five years to administer the service for the state. State Treasurer Beck says that during that time, the program will be assessed to determine how well it's working.

The ABLE accounts can be opened at any Bangor Savings Bank branch by any qualified Maine resident. The accounts come with some limitations on what is considered an allowable expense, and recipients can accrue up to $15,000 each year without risking penalties.