The unified mission of Wispact and the Wispact Foundation is to improve the quality of lives of persons with disabilities in Wisconsin.
Foundation Newsletter – August 2022
Legacy Grant Recipient, Islands of Brilliance
To enhance the lives of people with disabilities across Wisconsin, the Wispact Foundation awarded Legacy Grants 2021 totaling over $168,000 to 22 non-profit organizations.
“Having Wispact as a partner has been incredible; without them we wouldn’t have the means to do this extended outreach and make a difference for so many kids and families.”
— Michelle Pape, Director of Development, Islands of Brilliance
One of our grant recipients is Islands of Brilliance which was founded in 2012 by co-founders Mark and Margaret Fairbanks. Mark and Margaret’s son, Harry, was diagnosed with autism shortly before he turned three. After Harry’s diagnosis, the Fairbanks were told not to expect him to be ready for first grade, and that he would likely never go to college. Although the news was obviously disheartening, the Fairbanks were also motivated to discover ways to support Harry and others on the autism spectrum by empowering them to grow their social and emotional learning skills.
“We had our first workshop in 2012. And now, 10 years later, we’re offering both virtual and in-person options. Our goal is to help our students find independence, pursue post-secondary opportunities and become thriving members of their community. In the process, we work hard to help them feel connected and create a sense of belonging,” said Michelle Pape, Director of Development.
Now that the world is going back to in-person interactions, Islands of Brilliance hoped to serve beyond Southeastern Wisconsin. As a result, Sandbox@ was created in February of 2022, giving participants, at 12 locations around the state, the chance to learn, create and connect with other students in a safe and supportive environment through art, storytelling and STEaM-based projects.
“The grant from Wispact is making Sandbox@ possible. Wispact was the first foundation to support Sandbox@, which gave us the jumpstart we needed to make it feasible. Having Wispact as a partner has been incredible; without them we wouldn’t have the means to do this extended outreach and make a difference for so many kids and families,” Pape Concluded.
Last Call for 2022 Grant Applications – Due Date August 8. 2022
Wispact Foundation Grant Applications for grants to be awarded in the 2022 cycle are due on August 8, 2022.
For more information about applying for a grant: https://www.wispactfoundation.org/apply-for-a-grant/
Attorney Feature, Roy Froemming
“Wispact knows the state. They know the communities where people live, they know how Wisconsin programs operate and, from my experience, they are one of the best pool trust programs in the country.” — Roy Froemming
Roy Froemming, Of Counsel
Johnson Teigen, LLC
We’re again proud to share insights from a Wisconsin-based attorney whose dedication and insight have helped Wispact become what it is today while empowering us to fulfill our mission to improve the lives of people with disabilities across Wisconsin.
Roy Froemming worked for 20 years at Disability Rights Wisconsin where he provided advice and representation on a wide range of disability-related issues to people with all kinds of disabilities and their advocates and families. He had previously been part of developing Wisconsin’s first benefit specialist program, and at DRW he continued to use his knowledge of how public benefits eligibility rules affect people’s access to essential income, health care and support services. While at DRW, he wrote One Step Ahead, which included information on how people with disabilities, and those who cared about them, could use trusts to set aside resources to help people who rely on Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income without causing people to lose essential supports.
In the early 2000s, Froemming became part of a group of attorneys and disability advocacy agencies who came together with the goal of founding a nonprofit corporation whose only mission would be to set up and manage community trusts for people with all types of disabilities. This resulted in the creation of Wispact, Inc. A “community trust” is governed by one master trust and one trustee. The agency that establishes the trust writes the trust and chooses the trustee. People can then set up accounts in the trust to benefit a specific person. This saves the cost of drafting a separate trust and finding a private trustee for each person. It also means that the costs of managing the trust can be spread out over all accounts. Smaller accounts can be made much more affordable so that people with limited resources can still get the advantage of setting those aside for future needs and wants.
At the time the Wispact planning group came together, Wisconsin had a statewide community trust that was sponsored by disability advocacy groups and served people with all kinds of disabilities, but it was managed by a banks trustee. The bank focused managing money and making requested distributions, but did not have staff who specialized in serving people with disabilities and understanding what could be done creatively to help people who rely on public benefits. Sometimes money would sit in accounts, even though the beneficiaries had unmet needs and wants. In addition, Wisconsin lacked a pooled trust—a special kind of community trust that was created by Congress in the late 1990s and which allowed the trust to do some things no other special needs trust could do.
A pooled trust is a community trust, established and managed by nonprofit agency, that only holds accounts that are funded with property that belongs to the beneficiary before it goes into the trust. According to Froemming, the work group had several goals it could only achieve through the special advantages that applied to self-funded pooled trust accounts—
- It wanted to enable competent adults to be able to establish their own accounts. (Other kinds of self-funded special needs trusts at that time had to be established by a parent or grandparent, a guardian, or by going to court).
- It wanted to enable people age 65 or over to fund accounts for themselves. (In other kinds of self-funded special needs trusts, assets put into the trust after the person reached 65 counted as assets for Medicaid and SSI.)
- It wanted to allow assets that remained in accounts to be retained by the trust and used by the nonprofit to help other people with disabilities. (Other kinds of self-funded special needs trusts required remaining assets to go to the state, up to the amount of Medicaid benefits the person had received.)
The result of the planning group’s work was establishment of Wispact, Inc., its two trusts, and the Wispact Foundation. Wispact Trust I was established as a pooled trust. Wispact Trust II was established as a separate community trust, mainly for accounts funded by family members that are not subject to any Medicaid payback. Wispact got a big head start when accounts from Wisconsin’s existing statewide community trust were folded into Wispact Trust II. The Wispact Foundation, funded from remainders from Trust I accounts, provides substantial benefit to both Wispact trust beneficiaries and the wider Wisconsin disability community.
Froemming was a contributing author to the book, Special Needs Financial Planning, A Comparative Perspective, published by Cambridge University Press in 2019. His chapter “The Wispact Trusts: Making a Difference in a Means-Tested Support System” was the focus of a presentation he gave at an international symposium on special needs financial planning in Hong Kong.
When considering Wispact today, Froemming commented, “There may be other community and pooled trust options, but I think people are much more comfortable having a Wisconsin-based trustee for their pool trusts. Wispact knows the state. They know the communities where people live, they know how Wisconsin programs operate and, from my experience, they are one of the best pool trust programs in the country. They do a good job of meeting the person where they are and figuring out what fits their particular situation.”
In each issue of this newsletter, we feature an attorney specializing in helping their clients though pooled trusts. We will share their experience and relationship with Wispact. If you’d like to be featured, or know an attorney we should feature, please reach out to us.
A Wispact Beneficiary, Arlene’s Story
As we continue to grow, we never forget that our primary mission here at Wispact is to support every individual we have the honor to serve. This month we’d like to share a story from Jacki, caretaker of one of our beneficiaries. There are many adult children supporting their parents and although Wispact’s benefits apply directly to the beneficiary, they also indirectly support those who care for them.
Jacki’s mother, Arlene, worked until she was in her early seventies as a personal assistant, but due to financial constraints she needed Medicaid. Although Arlene’s condition (bi-polar mental illness) was challenging, she overcame and not only survived, but thrived. It was during that process that Jacki became aware of Wispact and learned about the benefits available through a pooled trust.
“Wispact has been a Godsend. They’re absolutely fantastic. They’re just mission driven and experts at what they do,” Jacki concluded.
To shelter Arlene’s modest savings while retaining her benefits, the family opened a Wispact Trust. “I had never heard of this before then. I thought it was a really ingenious idea to pool resources to husband scarce monies. Wispact has really been there for us and I don’t know what I would have done without them,” Jacki said.
The funds from the Wispact trust have been put to good use and include hearing aids and dental care. Jacki has reported that Arlene was recently able to get the dental care she needed and is “SOOOOOO happy” with her new front teeth.
Wispact’s mission is to improve the lives of people of all ages with disabilities across Wisconsin through the management of special needs trusts to provide more choice, more opportunities, and a better quality of life.
Our special needs trusts are created to help preserve the assets of people with disabilities without endangering their eligibility for public benefits or placement on waiting lists.
About the Wispact Foundation
The Wispact Inc. Foundation was established in 2021 in recognition of its dedication to provide a broader scope of service and create more opportunities for improving the lives of persons with disabilities across Wisconsin.
As an agency endowment fund established by Wispact Inc. and managed by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, the organization endeavors to make lasting community impacts through grants to organizations that serve persons with disabilities.
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