Adoption is hard. If you’ve adopted a child, you know. If your close friends or family members have adopted a child, you know. The most marvelous result — an orphaned, abandoned, or abused child finding a home — is typically preceded by years of uncertainty, red tape, and staggering expense.
You can work through bureaucracies for months, only to have a judge change his mind at the last instant. You can patiently and faithfully care for a birth mother, and she can exercise her proper and unquestioned right to keep the baby. You can work through foreign countries only to have a nation change its laws and slam the door in your face. To meet an adoptive family is to meet a family with a story — one that often involves prevailing in the face of adversity and almost always involves financial strains that few other families understand.
How much does it cost to adopt? An Adoptive Families Magazine survey of 1,100 families who adopted children from 2012 to 2013 found that the average family spent $34,093 on independent adoptions and $39,966 if they went through an agency. My family adopted our youngest daughter in 2010, and those numbers match our experience.
Even for upper-middle-class families, that’s a staggering amount of money to spend, and the expenses are often concentrated within the span of a few months in a single year. Agency fees, legal fees, travel expenses — they all pile up. So families often seek help. They raise money from family and friends. They appeal to churches. They go into debt.
There is, however, one thing that helps these families, and it helps a lot: It’s called the adoption tax credit, a $13,570 non-refundable credit that phases out for truly high-income families.
It doesn’t cost the government much — according to the Tax Policy Center, the so-called “tax expenditure” (forgone revenue) from the credit totaled $300 million in 2015 — but it makes adoption affordable for thousands of families. I know. It helped my family immensely when we adopted. It’s helped other adoptive families we know. It can be the financial difference that makes adoption possible.
And the newly released Republican tax-reform plan would abolish it entirely.
This Republican Congress may well end up funding Planned Parenthood while abolishing the adoption tax credit. That’s intolerable.
There’s nothing malicious about this. It’s just wrong. Representative Kevin Brady, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is the father of two adoptive children. Spend much time talking to folks on the Hill and you’d be surprised at the number of adoptive families or families in the adoption process. Brady defends the GOP proposal by noting that the Republican plan will put more money in middle-class families’ pockets each and every year. He accurately observes that a non-refundable credit is of minimal benefit to lower-income families.
But some taxpayers would have to sock away their tax savings under the new Republican plan for decades to match the benefit of the adoption tax credit. Plus, considering the tax credit’s minimal budget impact, the choice shouldn’t be either a larger standard deduction and child tax credit or an adoption tax credit. We can have all of those things without coming close to breaking the budget.
What’s more, the credit is one of the government’s most important pro-life policies. It’s a declaration that the pro-life ethic doesn’t stop (as the Left is so fond of arguing) at birth, but also extends into making certain that every child is a wanted child. It’s a way for the federal government to be an agent of relief and assistance in a process that’s too long, too difficult, and too expensive.
As things now stand, though, this Republican Congress may well end up funding Planned Parenthood while abolishing the adoption tax credit. That’s intolerable. Not even President Obama went that far. For a brief time during the Obama administration, the adoption credit was fully refundable. What did the IRS do? It deluged adoptive families with audits. Allegedly concerned with fraud, in one year it audited a staggering 69 percent of returns that claimed the credit. A 2011 GAO report indicated that the IRS “had not found any fraudulent adoption tax credit claims.”
My family was caught in that dragnet. The audit lasted for months, and it required me to dig through adoption receipts that were sometimes written in Amharic. It was frustrating, infuriating, and fruitless. I think, at the end of the day, my refund was adjusted by a few dollars. But if I had to choose between an Obama-administration audit and the abolition of the tax credit, I’d take the audit every time.
There is much to like about the Republican tax plan. It provides necessary relief to millions of American families, and it introduces a far more rational and sound corporate-tax structure. But it’s still a work in progress. It needs changes, and one of the first changes it needs is easy, inexpensive, and pro-life. Save the adoption tax credit. It’s helped give hundreds of thousands of children loving homes. It should help do the same for hundreds of thousands more.