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After four decades in the financial services industry, it’s only the rare, truly unique opportunity that makes you pause and think, “Now this is different.” In 2011, when I was brought onboard to guide Voya Financial – then ING U.S. – through the process that led to its initial public offering (IPO) and eventual rebrand, it was one of those pause-worthy moments. It was a chance to build a new culture – reflecting a different kind of financial services company. During the past six years, the journey has exceeded expectations, as our leadership team and employees have advanced a cultural and business transformation that is rich in diverse perspectives and committed to improving the financial security of all Americans.

A great example of how “this is different” at Voya, is our support of the 57 million Americans with disabilities and special needs – and their caregivers.1

The Need is Real

Make no mistake; the need is there. Across the United States, 20.9 million families have at least one member with a disability, and households where at least one family member has an intellectual disability have the highest poverty rate in the U.S.2 While government assistance and entitlement programs can ease some financial concerns, the majority of expenses are still borne by the family. For example, the cost of caring for a person with autism typically ranges from $1.4 million to as much as $2.4 million during that person’s lifetime.3 It’s no surprise that 50 percent of parents who have a child with special needs say the cost of care impedes their ability to save for retirement, and other long-term savings goals.4

Financial Guidance is Sparse

Financial planning for this group is extremely complex and requires a network of professionals – including a financial advisor – with knowledge in estate planning, tax planning, government benefits and legal matters. But advice in this area is not easy to find.

As part of our Voya Cares program to support the special needs community, we launched a pilot program earlier this year with a subset of Voya Financial advisors to address this specific need. The purpose was to provide advisors with training on important aspects of financial planning for this population, including government benefits, special needs trusts, ABLE Accounts, insurance and savings options.

Employers Can Help on Many Levels

Advice from an experienced advisor is essential for caregivers and individuals with disabilities. As a large employer, we recognize that many individuals seek out resources, financial education and support through the workplace – and we understand that the support required can be multi-faceted.

The emotional toll of caregiving or living with a disability is often unintentionally overlooked by employers. Voya data shows that only 28 percent of American workers surveyed have an employer that offers financial and retirement planning resources for individuals and caregivers facing these challenges.5

When we set out as an organization to determine how we could best support the special needs community, we started the process with our in-house professionals – our own employees. During focus group discussions, our people emphasized the value of programs addressing their needs – not just as an employee, but as a person. This includes benefits such an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for counseling services and emotional support, access to backup caregiving services and flexible work schedules and personal leave policies.

Workplace support also benefits employers. Sixty-four percent of working parents who care for a child with special needs believe those responsibilities negatively affect their work performance.On the other hand, a study of the general population published by the Families and Work Institute shows that employees with a better work-life balance (38 percent) describe being highly engaged at work compared with those with low flexibility (12 percent), meaning that they are willing to go “above and beyond” to contribute to their maximum potential.7 They are also far less likely to look for a new job.

Engaging the Disability Community in the Workforce

Employers can ease the burden on individuals with disabilities and their caregivers – and boost productivity –by implementing programs that support employees in their careers and personal lives. However, if employment trends continue, many people with disabilities will never gain access to these benefits.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, people with disabilities are dramatically under-employed. Only 20.5 percent are part of the U.S. workforce compared to 68 percent of the general population, and just 33 percent of working Americans surveyed by Voya Financial say their organization employs people with cognitive and/or physical disabilities.8 Needless to say, individuals with disabilities who are engaged in the workforce decrease the financial burden on caregivers.

All journeys have a beginning, and Voya is currently working with organizations including the National Down Syndrome Society, the Special Olympics and the U.S. Business Leadership Network to determine how we can best support people with special needs and their caregivers from an employment standpoint. We don’t have all the answers, but we know that we can have a positive impact. Whether it be through mentoring opportunities, support for diversity and inclusion programming or simply using our voice to raise awareness, we are committed to advancing retirement outcomes for this population – and helping them achieve the financial future they deserve.

Securities and investment advisory services offered through Voya Financial Advisors, Inc. (member SIPC). Neither Voya ® nor its affiliated companies or representatives provide tax or legal advice. Please consult a tax adviser or attorney before making a tax-related investment/insurance decision.

1 National Organization on Disability website https://www.nod.org/about/

2 Multiple Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, Erickson, W., & Lee, C. Disability Status Report: United States

3 Pediatrics, March 2014, v. 133, issue 3 http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/133/3/e520

4 National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with AARP: Caregiving in the U.S. 2009 – A Focused Look at Those Caring for a Child with Special Needs under the Age of 18.

5 Based on findings from a phone-based survey commissioned by Voya and conducted by ORC International of 1,001 adults in the U.S. ages 18 and older. Responses were collected between Oct. 9 and 15, 2017.

6 Care.com and National Family Caregivers Association: State of Care Index, 2009.

7 Families and Work Institute: Workflex and Managers Guide, 2016.

8 Multiple sources: Department of Labor and findings from a phone-based survey commissioned by Voya and conducted by ORC International of 1,001 adults in the U.S. ages 18 and older. Responses were collected between Oct. 9 and 15, 2017.