Plant­ing seeds for the fu­ture

The Oklahoman - - OPINION - BY STATE REP. JADINE NOLLAN Nollan, R-Sand Springs, rep­re­sents District 66 in the Ok­la­homa House. Henry served two terms as gov­er­nor, elected in 2002 and 2006. Bass lives in Miami, Florida.

There’s a say­ing that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago; the sec­ond-best time is now. The same prin­ci­ple holds true for sav­ing for your child’s col­lege ed­u­ca­tion. When­ever in your child’s life you choose to start sav­ing, it’s im­por­tant for your fam­ily to have a plan. Too many fam­i­lies don’t.

Septem­ber is Ok­la­homa and Na­tional Col­lege Sav­ings Month. It’s an op­por­tu­nity to re­mind par­ents of the im­por­tance of sav­ing for col­lege and point them to­ward some of the tools that can help them craft a plan for the fu­ture.

Even a lit­tle bit, saved reg­u­larly, can add up and make a dif­fer­ence. One op­tion for Ok­la­homa fam­i­lies is the Ok­la­homa 529 Col­lege Sav­ings Plan (OCSP). The plan of­fers a num­ber of in­vest­ment op­tions and funds may be used at al­most any pri­vate or pub­lic univer­sity, col­lege or ca­reer tech­nol­ogy cen­ter na­tion­wide. Funds can also be ap­plied to other qual­i­fied ex­penses, in­clud­ing fees, books, sup­plies and cer­tain room and board and tech­nol­ogy costs. To top it off, your con­tri­bu­tions may also qual­ify for an Ok­la­homa in­come tax de­duc­tion.

Thou­sands of fam­i­lies have started their col­lege sav­ings through OCSP, but many more can ben­e­fit from it. All it takes is a lit­tle time, to­day, to sit down and start mak­ing a plan. To learn more about OCSP, visit www.ok4sav­ing. org. This web­site has fea­tures, like a sav­ings cal­cu­la­tor and tools to project how much col­lege may cost in the fu­ture, that will help you plan for your child’s or grand­child’s fu­ture.

Many col­lege grad­u­ates are start­ing their pro­fes­sional lives sad­dled with stu­dent debt. The av­er­age for stu­dents grad­u­at­ing in the class of 2016 was $37,172, ac­cord­ing to Forbes. Wouldn’t it be a re­lief to know that your child or grand­child would have the ad­van­tage of tran­si­tion­ing from col­lege into adult­hood with­out be­ing sad­dled with stu­dent loan debt like many of their friends might be? By start­ing to save early, or even now, it is pos­si­ble! Rep. Jadine Nollan us­tice for all” is a pil­lar of life in Amer­ica. We pledged “with lib­erty and jus­tice for all” in grade school and have car­ried that prin­ci­ple through our lives as an Ok­la­homa value, an Ok­la­homa stan­dard. While it is carved on our build­ings and in our hearts, this fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple of every per­son’s equal value in the eyes of the court is now in jeop­ardy due to a pro­posal be­fore Congress to de­fund the Le­gal Ser­vices Cor­po­ra­tion (LSC).

LSC pro­vides fund­ing for free civil le­gal as­sis­tance for poor per­sons in every state. Bi­par­ti­san sup­port from Congress has re­sulted in fund­ing

LSC every year since its cre­ation in 1974, but this year, the White House has ze­roed out fund­ing to LSC.

In Ok­la­homa, Le­gal Aid Ser­vices of Ok­la­homa (LASO), a non­profit 501(c)(3) or­ga­ni­za­tion, is the only statewide free gen­eral civil le­gal as­sis­tance pro­gram that re­ceives LSC funds. LASO serves low-in­come Ok­la­homans in all 77 coun­ties when they are trapped in abu­sive re­la­tion­ships, seek­ing cus­tody of their chil­dren, fight­ing wrong­ful evic­tions or when they have been de­nied right­fully earned ben­e­fits. In 2016, LASO han­dled 10,133 crit­i­cal cases, in­volv­ing 22,724 men, women and chil­dren who had no other re­course. To qual­ify, an in­di­vid­ual may earn no more than $15,075 an­nu­ally, and a fam­ily of four is lim­ited to $30,750.

As a third-gen­er­a­tion Oklahoman, I have seen many good Ok­la­homans who have fallen into poverty and needed an at­tor­ney’s help to keep their fam­ily to­gether. I’ve seen hard-work­ing peo­ple who weren’t able to nav­i­gate the com­plex le­gal sys­tem alone and wound up losing the fam­ily home.

In 2009, my wife, Kim, and I were hon­ored to serve as co-chairs for LASO’s Cam­paign for Jus­tice, the an­nual fund drive that is sup­ported by at­tor­neys, firms, other in­di­vid­u­als, foun­da­tions, cor­po­ra­tions and many sov­er­eign na­tions. To­gether, we raised more than $1 mil­lion for LASO, which al­lowed it to main­tain its ser­vice lev­els de­spite con­gres­sional bud­get cuts. That ex­pe­ri­ence showed Kim and me that le­gal aid is vi­tal for low-in­come in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies in Ok­la­homa. We saw how the help of le­gal aid of­ten pro­vides the rem­edy and sup­port crit­i­cal for an in­di­vid­ual or fam­ily to re­turn to pro­duc­tiv­ity. We wit­nessed how le­gal aid can be the cru­cial el­e­ment in do­mes­tic vi­o­lence cases, al­low­ing the vic­tim to live in safety. The 10,133 cases han­dled by LASO last year touched only a frac­tion of the low-in­come per­sons who could be helped if funds were avail­able. And the de­mand for LASO’s as­sis­tance grows every year. Mean­while, LASO is work­ing to make sure clients have ac­cess to its ser­vices by em­bed­ding at­tor­neys and le­gal staff mem­bers in other non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions that pro­vide di­rect ser­vices to par­tic­u­lar sec­tions of the pop­u­la­tion, such as vet­er­ans, abused women and se­niors groups.

I am joined in this ar­ti­cle by Hi­larie Bass, the 2017-18 pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Bar As­so­ci­a­tion. We hope to in­form Ok­la­homans of the vi­tal role LASO plays in Ok­la­homa’s jus­tice sys­tem. The courts and the en­tire so­cial sys­tem in our state rely on le­gal aid to as­sist low-in­come per­sons in the most ben­e­fi­cial way. Hi­larie Bass

Brad Henry

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