You could call it true interstate cooperation when these two get together – Anita Kelley from Alabama and Rachel Biar from Nebraska. Each is director of the 529 college savings plan in her state, as well as director of the ABLE savings program for individuals with disabilities. In fact, Alabama contracts with Nebraska to offer the Enable Savings Plan to its residents.
The two administrators share not only a commitment to their states and to the programs they manage, but they also share a deep respect for their bosses, Alabama State Treasurer Young Boozer and Nebraska State Treasurer Don Stenberg. And, did we mention, they both love college football? Crimson Tide meet Big Red.
The two began working together two years ago when the Nebraska Treasurer’s Office proposed contracting with the State of Alabama to offer the Enable Savings Plan to Alabama residents. Selling points included cost, brand recognition, and a shared work ethic. Of most interest to Alabama were reasonable fees for account owners, ongoing assistance, and call center support. Treasurer Boozer said Nebraska best met his state’s needs.
The contract between Alabama and Nebraska was signed in December 2016, just six months after the Enable Savings Plan for individuals with qualifying disabilities was launched in Nebraska.
“As Trustee of Enable, I am optimistic about the future of the tax-advantaged Enable Savings Plan for children and adults with disabilities, and I am committed to making sure the Enable plan serves the needs of Alabama residents, just as it serves the needs of Nebraskans. I look forward to working with Treasurer Boozer to introduce Enable in Alabama and watch it grow,” Stenberg said at the time.
Enable is a tax-advantaged savings program for adults and children with qualifying disabilities that allows account owners to save without affecting their public assistance benefits like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The savings program came about after the federal Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE) was passed by Congress in 2014. The Nebraska Legislature passed state legislation creating the plan in 2015.
Nebraska’s Biar said she admires her Alabama colleague’s dedication to Enable and her enthusiasm and determination to educate Alabamians about the savings plan.
“Because ABLE is relatively new, it is unfamiliar to most Americans,” Biar said. “Whatever we can do to collaborate on providing awareness is a win for persons with disabilities who can use Enable accounts for their well-being. Anita’s passion for Enable is inspiring and contagious, which helps to foster not only our friendship, but also our partnership.”
Said Kelley, “We have the unique opportunity to be here at the beginning of this program, deliver the good news and make a difference in so many lives. Nebraska has shown from the very beginning that it is just as invested in the Alabama plan as it is in its own program.” She said she values the open communication and trust that has developed between the two.
To understand the nature of the friendship and the partnership, however, you need to know the rest of the story.
Alabama Treasurer Boozer, Kelley’s boss, traces his roots to Nebraska. His mother, the late Phyllis Chamberlain Boozer, was born in Clarks, Nebraska, and raised in Nelson. She graduated from the University of Nebraska, “where the girls are the fairest and the boys are the squarest,” as Treasurer Boozer likes to repeat from the Nebraska fight song.
Treasurer Boozer’s step-grandfather, Rufus M. Howard, was a member of the House of Representatives of the Bicameral Nebraska Legislature from 1935 to 1937 and then the Unicameral Legislature from 1937 to 1943. From 1941-1942, he was the Speaker of the Unicameral, only the third person to hold that position after a constitutional amendment in 1934 created the one-house legislature.
The Nebraska Blue Book lists Howard’s residence as Sutherland and Flats, an extinct town in western McPherson County. After his terms in the Legislature, he was State Director of Agriculture from 1942 to 1950 and received a University of Nebraska Builder Award in 1952.
Treasurer Boozer said his grandmother, Anna Chamberlain Howard, worked for the State of Nebraska in veterans’ affairs for many years and lived at 1600 Arapahoe Street after Rufus’s death. Anna’s first husband – and Boozer’s grandfather John Chamberlain – died during the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918-19. Treasurer Boozer remembers visiting his grandmother’s Lincoln house during summer vacations and enjoying ice cream from a nearby Dairy Queen.
“According to all accounts, Father Howard, as we called him, was beloved by the members of the Legislature and his colleagues. He was given a silver bell that was used to call for a page to come and pick up his vote or to deliver a message for him. As one might expect, the handle of the bell is an ear of Nebraska corn,” Treasurer Boozer related.
The memento of Rufus Howard’s distinguished service in Lincoln now sits on Treasurer Boozer’s desk in the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery.
“My cousin who lives in Omaha discovered the bell in her father’s home after his death. Given the public servant connection between Father Howard and me, she bequeathed it to me. It was quite a surprise and an honor. She was unaware of the relationships that have been fostered between the state treasurers of Alabama and Nebraska. I view the bell as a symbol of a common philosophy,” Treasurer Boozer said.
Treasurer Boozer said in his dealings with Nebraska Treasurer Stenberg, he has “felt great camaraderie and great connection based on my personal philosophy.” At the forefront of all his actions and decisions, Treasurer Boozer said, are three guiding principles: “First, do the right thing. Second, do it the right way, and third, do it right away. Everything I do, I do in context of that personal philosophy. And my dealings with Treasurer Stenberg indicate to me, in every way, he feels and acts the same.”
Treasurer Stenberg says the admiration is mutual. “Treasurer Boozer and I have built our careers in and out of government on honesty, integrity, respect, and common sense. I have appreciated the opportunity to get to know him and to share our common values.”
Both men will leave office in January because of term limits.
Raised in Tuscaloosa, Treasurer Boozer received his bachelor’s degree in economics from Stanford University and a master’s degree in finance from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He was elected Alabama State Treasurer in 2010 after a 40-year career in banking, finance, and investments. He is past chair of the Executive Board of the College Savings Plans Network, an affiliate of the National Association of State Treasurers (NAST). Biar also serves on that board.
Treasurer Stenberg is a native of Nebraska with a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Nebraska and a law degree and MBA from Harvard. He served 12 years as Nebraska Attorney General and was elected State Treasurer in 2010. He began his career in government as an aide to the late Charley Thone, former Governor and member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Stenberg is Midwestern Region Vice President of NAST and past chair of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.
Which brings us right back to football.
“You can’t have a discussion about Alabama and Nebraska without talking football,” Treasurer Boozer said. “The rivalry in the ‘60s and ‘70s was remarkable. My father, Young J. Boozer Jr., played at Alabama in the ‘30s, and his roommate was Coach (Bear) Bryant. My mother was a CORNHUSKER! The rivalry was very lively in the Boozer household. Roll Tide Roll and Go Big Red!”
“Being a University of Nebraska track letterman, I side with Treasurer Boozer’s mother when it comes to football,” Stenberg replied with a smile.
Enable is a tax-advantaged savings plan to help make saving simple and affordable for individuals with disabilities. Nebraska State Treasurer John Murante serves as Trustee. First National Bank of Omaha serves as Program Manager, and investments are approved by the Nebraska Investment Council. Visit EnableSavings.com and treasurer.nebraska.gov for more information.
About Enable Alabama
Enable Alabama is a tax-advantaged savings plan to help make saving simple and affordable for individuals with disabilities. The State of Alabama, through the ABLE Program Board, contracted with the Nebraska State Treasurer to create Enable Savings Plan Alabama as part of the Trust. The Nebraska State Treasurer serves as Program Trustee. First National Bank of Omaha serves as Program Manager, and investments are approved by the Nebraska Investment Council. Visit EnableAL.com, and treasury.alabama.gov for more information.