IN recent years, state lawmakers have often focused on laws designed to deter abortion. They placed less attention on policies that would encourage the placement of needy children in a good home. This is starting to change. House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, and Sen. A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie, deserve credit for that fact.
Legislation authored by Shannon and Griffin provides a tax break to foster parents in Oklahoma when they file their 2014 returns. Under the law approved last year, foster parents can claim a deduction of $2,500 for single filers or $5,000 for joint returns. Lisa Feist, executive director of OK Foster Wishes, said the deduction will help foster parents and could help with recruitment efforts, noting the reimbursement those parents get from the state doesn't necessarily cover expenses.
While every little bit helps, this tax break is just that — little. The $5,000 deduction will translate into an actual tax break of about $150. That's nothing to turn up your nose at, but the state could do more.
When the tax break was being debated in the Legislature, Oklahoma had 3,986 foster homes. The state needs many more. We also need to encourage adoption, not just foster care. Shannon said he will introduce more legislation regarding these issues in the year ahead, so here are a few suggestions.
Lawmakers could consider policies similar to a 2010 law enacted by Congress that increased the federal adoption tax credit to as much as $13,360. That law also made the credit refundable for two years, which allowed adoptive parents to potentially reduce their tax liability to zero and receive money for any unused portion of the credit.
Some critics may deride this as a de facto welfare payment. But without adoption, the state would be paying other costs related to the care of those same children through traditional social service programs. The long-term benefit of creating more stable homes for deprived children would also be worth noting in any fiscal calculation. It's not a question of whether the state will spend money on these children, but whether that money will generate the best outcome for them.
Couples choosing to raise children who aren't their biological offspring are performing a great service. And many families do so despite having incomes far removed from the upper echelon. A report by National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson noted that half of 2012 federal adoption-credit recipients had adjusted gross incomes of $64,000 or less.
As legislators look for ways to support adoption, they should also consider further targeting unscrupulous attorneys who effectively sell children by charging unwarranted, outrageous and extraneous fees, exploiting birth mothers and prospective parents. Several high-profile abuses have been publicized in recent years; lawmakers have taken steps to curtail the activity. But people knowledgeable about adoption say unethical activity continues, largely fostered by a handful of attorneys. Such crass abuse of loving couples and needy children shouldn't be tolerated.
Recent legislative efforts have sought to curtail abortion by discouraging the procedure. Those efforts have mostly failed due to successful court challenges. The foster care tax credit and similar initiatives represent an alternative strategy — one that could reduce abortion not by directly targeting it but by making life-affirming alternatives both morally appealing and practical.