1998 Finalist
Winners:
State of Maine
1998
Publication:
Innovations in American Government Awards
Organization:
Innovations in American Government Awards
Jurisdiction:
Maine

The Adaptive Equipment Loan Program (AELP) provides financial loans for adaptive equipment such as ramps, elevators, wheelchairs, adapted vehicles, hearing aids, prosthetics, assistive animals, braillers, voice-activated computers, and hand-powered bicycles. These products, also called assistive technology, enable people with disabilities to improve their quality of life and to be independent, productive members of the community. Adaptive equipment also enables businesses to be accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

AELP addresses a need faced by people with disabilities across the United States: how to afford requisite products that enable them to hold a job, go to school, and participate in community life. People with disabilities, many of whom rely on Social Security or veterans benefits, on average, have incomes below those of non-disabled people. Medicaid, Medicare, and other funding for adaptive equipment has declined. Health insurers, with strict definitions of "medical necessity," will not reimburse for adaptive equipment, particularly home modifications and adapted vehicles. Lending institutions have long considered people with disabilities high-risk borrowers; many people with disabilities also have no credit history. Lenders see little or no collateral value in equipment adapted for one consumer and do not take a long view of adaptive equipment as an investment that pays off with better health or increased income.

AELP addresses this need by providing flexible, affordable loans to anyone with no financing alternatives who is able to repay a loan. AELP also helps consumers understand and use credit and empowers individuals with disabilities to decide for themselves what they need to live independently, and to pay for those products. AELP lends up to $100,000 to individuals, organizations, and businesses, though 75 percent of loans are reserved for equipment intended for personal use. Loans are structured to individual needs: interest rates may vary from 0 percent to the prime rate or may gradually increase, payments may be interest-only or principal-only for limited periods, and terms may be for the useful life of the product. Loans may also be made for disability-related expenses such as home design services.

AELP has improved the lives of Maine people with disabilities, affecting the economy and the social structure of the entire state. AELP has made 861 loans that include 422 active loans valued at $5,524,585 and 415 paid-off loans valued at $2,274,220, for a total of $7,798,805. These loans had an average loan amount of $9,101.91, average interest rate of 3.67 percent, and average repayment term of 5.90 years. AELP has provided these loans to consumers who had no other affordable option to finance adaptive equipment that is now enabling them to work, go to school, and be part of their families and communities. AELP has accomplished this with only 24 loans written off, totaling $37,936, or less than one-half of one percent of all AELP funds loaned out—an extremely low failure rate.