Patrick B. McGuigan
Oklahoma City, OK – Ellyn Hefner is a special care planner who works with Mass Mutual — but that description of her world of worl barely hints at what she does every day, week, month and year. Perhaps because of her son’s challenges and potential, she has become a tireless advocate for those seeking savings for and development of independence for qualified individuals with disabilities.
To be sure, she earns her living as a financial analyst for the well-known firm, but she commits countless uncompensated hours to a wide variety of groups assisting those who access public programs such as Medicaid or SSI, but whose loved ones (often parents or other caregivers) are in need of practical counsel to avoid financial devastation as they grow older. She serves on boards of directors and in other roles throughout the city area.
In 2014, Congress enacted new legal provisions in creation of the “Achieving A Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. Oklahoma, following the lead and model of a state effort originating in Ohio, launched its own “STABLE” program in May 2018.
Administered through the office of the Oklahoma Treasurer, STABLE functions, according to a summary from the agency, “similar to a 529 college account or 401(k) retirement plan.” STABLE can work alongside Special Needs Trusts – and “can also function like a regular checking account.”
In the past, those with disabilities could only reserve (save) $2,000 before losing benefits deemed “needs-based.”
In Oklahoma STABLE people can save and invest as much as $15,000 a year without eroding eligibility for certain programs. The funds can be used for qualified disability expenses (such as education, housing, transportation, healthcare, “assistive” technology, employment and some basic expenses). Further, earnings can grow tax-free and are not subject to income taxation (so long as used for qualified disability expenses).
While not an attorney, she says some of the most enthusiastic responses she gets are from attorneys. In less than two weeks early in this New Year, she had given three formal presentations on the Oklahoma STABLE program. She finds attorneys are “understand a new possibility.”
Hefner can, when needed, speak in technical terms, but delights in frequent “Q&A evenings” where families and individuals can be educated about the existing provisions.
“Some estate planners don’t yet know about STABLE,” she says, but Hefner’s recurring good works are shifting awareness and increasing access.
She derives increasing satisfaction from educating families and friends about the program.
This year, Senate Bill 1190, legislation sponsored by state Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, could (if enacted) expand the ability to grow STABLE individual accounts, making them operate more like the acclaimed Oklahoma 529 College Savings program.
In future stories, The City Sentinel will dive more deeply into this gentle and “stable” water with further information. For basic information or to set up an account, visit online: okstable.org. Or send Ellyn an email at [email protected].