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Loan program helps people with disabilities

St. Joseph News-Press - 9/27/2018

Sept. 27--Maintaining a good credit score can be challenging. It can be even more difficult for individuals with disabilities.

Wheelchair lifts, ramps, hearing aids and other equipment are expensive and not always accessible through insurance.

That's why Missouri Assistive Technology has established a new program aiming to support assistive technology purchases. The organization is headed by the Missouri Assistive Technology Council, which was established by the state in 1993 and helps people with disabilities access assistive technology.

The newly established Fresh Start Program allows participants with no or poor credit to improve their score with the help of one-on-one coaching in order to become eligible for a Show Me Loan, which helps finance assistive technology.

According to Eileen Belton, program coordinator for both the Fresh Start and Show Me Loan programs, maintaining good credit while maneuvering often unexpected costs of medical care can be difficult.

"For folks with disabilities, changes can occur in their life that can quickly get out of control," Belton said. "Maybe their insurance has limits and they don't cover that, or they experience a sudden, life-altering disability and can't work and then they're forced to make choices of what they're going to pay."

The Show Me Loan program has been in existence since 2001 and helped Missouri residents finance disability- or age-related assistive technology worth $3.5 million. Participants can borrow up to $15,000 for equipment and up to $20,000 for vehicle modifications. However, the number of applicants who didn't qualify for the low-interest loan program has increased in the last few years. This lead to the Fresh Start program.

"Our mission is to find ways to help folks get assistive technology," Belton said.

The program was announced at the beginning of September, and Belton said there has been a lot of interest already. Participants will work with financial coaches through a partnership with the University of Missouri Extension for up to nine months and then apply for a Show Me Loan.

"These are individuals who will already know that they need assistive technology and what it's going to cost so we can help them determine what that monthly payment will be," Belton said.

Participants will start saving a monthly amount at the beginning of the Fresh Start program that will then be applied toward a Show Me Loan.

"Our goal is to get them back on track, start fresh with this new plan and they're gong to be demonstrating some consistent progress."

Midland Empire Resources For Independent Living (MERIL) in St. Joseph partners with Missouri Assistive Technology and lets individuals with disabilities try out equipment before making a decision. The organization also helps with navigating all possible options before applying to the Fresh Start or Show Me Loan programs.

Individuals with disabilities or family members can apply for the Fresh Start program at at.mo.gov/show-me-loans/. There is no limit to applications Missouri Assistive Technology accepts, and the website also offers a loan calculator. MERIL can be contacted at 816-279-8558.

Jessica Kopp can be reached at jessica.kopp@newspressnow.com or you can follow her on Twitter: @NPNOWKopp

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(c)2018 the St. Joseph News-Press (St. Joseph, Mo.)

Visit the St. Joseph News-Press (St. Joseph, Mo.) at www.newspressnow.com/index.html

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