New Illinois ABLE Program Helps Families with Special Needs

ilRaising a child with special needs can be expensive. Last week, Illinois State Treasurer Michael W. Frerichs unveiled the Illinois ABLE plan to help families save for future expenses. The plan was developed by the National Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Alliance, a consortium of 13 states that worked with Congress and state legislatures to create this special investment program that allows for tax-free investment growth when savings are spent on qualifying disability-related expenses.

The plan is similar to the 529 college savings plans in that families would be allowed to set aside money for future qualified expenses, invest these funds in professionally designed savings accounts, and avoid some tax penalties on the fund. Eligible individuals can open the account for themselves, or an authorized individual can open an account on their behalf. To be eligible, a person must:

  • Be entitled to SSI or SSDI because of their disability
  • Have their disability present before age 26

Annual contributions per beneficiary are limited to the federal gift tax limit, which is currently $14,000. Like the 529 college savings plan, anyone can contribute to an ABLE plan, including relatives and friends. The Illinois ABLE plan is designed to protect an individual’s federal benefits, and up to $100,000 saved in an ABLE account would not be counted against a person’s eligibility for SSI or other federal means-tested programs. ABLE account holders are still eligible for Medicaid regardless of their account balance.

Withdrawals from an ABLE account are tax-free if used for qualified disability expenses. These are any expenses that are incurred as a result of living with a disability and that are intended to improve the beneficiary’s quality of life. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Education
  • Health and wellness
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Legal fees
  • Financial management
  • Employment training and support
  • Assistive technology
  • Personal support services
  • Oversight and monitoring
  • Funeral and burial expenses

The state treasurer’s office has created a fact sheet to share with families who may benefit from the Illinois ABLE plan. The Illinois ABLE website provides additional information as well as providing a fast and easy way to sign up and create an Illinois ABLE account.

President’s Corner

As the year continues, I know everyone is really busy with this year’s school activities. The Illinois PTA has worked with the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative for many years and I would like to encourage you to have your children write about their favorite Male role model.

All children from grades K-12 can now enter this awesome yearly contest and express why their father, step-father, uncle, grandfather, father figure, or what their perfect father figure would be. Please share this with all of your units. The date has been extended to March 15th so ACT NOW.

I hope all of you enjoy this contest as much as I do. Attached is the contest rules, entry form and instructions. If you would like to be involved in judging the entries please do not hesitate to let me know at mrodriguez@illinoispta.org subject title: Essay.

I would also like to encourage you not to be discouraged if you have not met your membership numbers yet. Our Membership Director Julie Holdeman, is here to help with ideas, communication, and resources. She will be hosting the free webinar Rejuvenate Your Membership: A Mid-Year Push of 2017! on February 20th at 1pm and 7pm.

Take advantage of the final months of the school year. Winter is a great time to rejuvenate your membership campaign by reaching out to retain past PTA members, board members or staff and to welcome new members to your PTA. One process or attempt to gain members is not effective in retaining or growing your membership. Illinois PTA is happy to offer this webinar with ideas to reach out and welcome new members to your PTA.  This webinar will address:

  • Myths of why people don’t join or have misconceptions about the PTA and how we can reach out to them
  • How to promote your past, current, and future programs, events, resources or services provided.
  • Host a PTA “Refer A Friend” Challenge
  • Host a “Thank PTA” campaign- thru membership
  • And more ideas to try with your PTA.

Learn about how your PTA could be entered to win an IL PTA Membership Incentive.  PTA members are the driving force of our association. Your local unit needs members as leaders, volunteers, & proud supporters. Illinois and National PTA needs every member to build a constituency, giving us influence to advocate for positive legislation for our children. Help our numbers grow so that we can all make an even larger impact for our children and families.

Parenting Your Teen in an Age of Social Media

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-11-35-04-amSocial media is one of the great parenting challenges since most of us grew up well before social media and always connected devices were common. Teaching your child how to be responsible online will continue to be a struggle as new social media platforms create new challenges. National PTA’s The Smart Talk, created in partnership with LifeLock, can help families set up guidelines for online behavior.

Kari Kampakis, a blogger and author of the book Parenting Your Teen in an Age of Social Media, recently posted a list of five guiding principles to use in teaching our children to be safe and responsible online. These principles are aimed at having our children develop the habits and skills to know how to have their online presence be safe and healthy, just like we teach our children to be safe in the real world. These five principles are:

  1. Remember your reputation is at stake. Every choice you make reveals your character.
  2. Consider three questions before you post: Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?
  3. Seek to be kind, not popular.
  4. If you aren’t feeling the love, stay off social media.
  5. Social media should supplement your relationships, not replace them.

Mrs. Kampakis’s article goes into depth on each of these principles. Each point also provides a jumping off point for you to have a conversation with your child about social media, online behavior, and responsibility. Finally, it is important that we as adults set a good example of positive behavior online. Our children learn much more from what we do than from what we say.

Photo courtesy of Wesley Fryer under Creative Commons license.

IRS Releases Updated Form 990-EZ

form-990-ez-topAs 501(c)3 organizations, PTAs are required to file some type of Form 990 with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) every year. That form is due on the 15th day of the fifth month after the end of their fiscal year. For PTAs whose fiscal year ends June 30th, the filing deadline is November 15th.

PTAs that have gross receipts (i.e., total income) that are normally less than $50,000 file the online electronic postcard Form 990-N. Those PTAs with gross receipts between $50,000 and $200,000 use the Form 990-EZ. The IRS has issued an updated version of Form 990-EZ to help non-profit organizations file the form correctly. PTAs will use the new form for fiscal years that end after September 30, 2016 (i.e., with a due date of February 15, 2017 or later).

After analyzing where organizations were making mistakes on the Form 990-EZ, the IRS added 29 new “help” icons in specific fields to describe the key information needed and to provide links to additional helpful resources on the IRS website. The new form’s help icons are small blue boxes marked with a question mark (see picture). The icons and links work on any device with Adobe Acrobat Reader and internet access.

The IRS is encouraging non-profit organizations that file the Form 990-EZ to fill it out electronically rather than on paper. In 2016, the error rate for electronically-filed Form 990-EZ returns was 1 percent, while the paper-filed error rate was 33 percent. Once completed, the online Form 990-EZ can be printed out and mailed to the IRS.

The IRS does caution that the new help icons do not replace the Form 990-EZ instructions, but only serve as an aid in filling out the form. PTAs should follow the Form 990-EZ instructions when completing their return.