South Carolina Treasurer Curtis Loftis celebrated the state's Future Scholar college savings program Thursday by presenting East Cooper Medical Center CEO Jason Alexander with one of many bags packed with Onesies, rubber ducks and other gifts for the lucky babies who will be born on May 29.

Those babies - and their parents - will be eligible for a $529 Future Scholar grant, jump-starting their savings for college. When a Future Scholar college savings account is opened for a child born on May 29, the grant will automatically be deposited.

The occasion is named for the federal tax code, 529, under which the savings program falls.

The grants come from the privately-funded PalmettoBaby program, which is expected to make the grants available to the 200 children expected to be born in South Carolina on May 29. PalmettoBaby's 529 Day grants are intended to promote and "celebrate the success" of Future Scholar, according to program literature.

"Saving for college is more important than it's ever been," Loftis said. "If we don't start saving now, our young ones won't be able to go to college without bone-crushing debt."

Alexander has two young sons and said he has been contributing to their Future Scholar accounts since his family moved to South Carolina.

Future Scholar is a college savings plan with state and federal tax benefits similar to those of a Roth Individual Retirement Account.

Contributions can be invested in 20 different combinations of stocks, bonds, money market accounts and cash. And no federal or state taxes must be paid on the fund's gains when withdrawn.

The account's funds must be used for college spending; if not, they can incur a tax penalty of 10 percent.

In the last year, 14,000 Future Scholar accounts were opened statewide. Since Loftis took office in 2011, more than 36,000 have been opened.

Amanda Coyne can be reached at 937-5592