Op-Ed Contributor: Care About Kids? You Should Want to Save This Tax Credit

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My husband and I adopted our children through a private agency, Spence-Chapin Services to Families and Children. As a nonprofit organization, it relies on client fees as well as donor support to do its work.

The fees are significant, but are appropriate. Spence-Chapin’s clients are some of America’s most vulnerable citizens: babies. If a new mother is considering an adoption plan for her child, the agency can assume temporary guardianship of that newborn, ensuring that it is clothed and cared for and given medical attention, while its mother is provided with medical and counseling services as well as logistical support. Whether that mother determines that it’s best to be a parent herself or to place her child with a family that wants one, the agency will have fulfilled its mission: to care for the child. The time and expertise of the social workers, doctors, lawyers and others involved in this work should not come cheap.

We were able to pay some fees associated with adoption in cash. With our older son, now 8, we became parents much more quickly than we’d anticipated, and shuffled the balance of the expenses onto a credit card. That piece of debt quickly became abstract, as debt tends to; it was simply part of the larger financial picture that became more complicated once we had a small baby: health insurance, child care, clothes, diapers, those ridiculous swim and music classes that parents like us always seem to fall for. It was helpful to remember that this credit was in the offing; claiming it, and watching my tax bill effectively eliminated, felt like magic.

Giving money to charity or converting your home to green energy are behaviors deemed beneficial enough to society that they’re worth encouraging via tax credits and deductions. Since 1996, the federal government has determined that making a family via adoption is similarly beneficial to society, and rewarded that choice with a tax credit.

The decision to eliminate this benefit now feels as showy and insubstantial as the decision to close national parks whenever there’s a budget impasse. It is uniquely galling that Representative Kevin Brady, Republican of Texas, one of the authors of the current tax plan, is himself a father by adoption.

Representative Brady was not eligible for the credit because his family income is too high, so perhaps he’s simply unable to imagine what a tax credit means to a middle-income family. My family’s security and survival were not contingent upon this credit by any means, but we are undoubtedly better off for it, a rung higher on the ladder to the middle class, an inch nearer to being able to send our sons to college. I am pained to imagine the family that wants to adopt but decides it can’t because of the costs.

Agencies like Spence-Chapin promote the tax credit, and rightly so; pointing out that adoption is less financially burdensome than it might seem is simply good advertising, just as making adoption less financially burdensome is simply good social practice. Contemporary families can be made in many ways. You might step up when relatives or friends are unable to meet their obligation to their children. You might marry someone who is already a parent. Or you might, as in my case, yearn to create a family and decide to adopt.

Adoptive parents are not saviors deserving of some special subsidy. (Though I would argue that those families who adopt children with special needs, which is not what my family has done, deserve the wholesale financial support of the federal government.) But tax incentives reward actions that positively affect society. Creating stable family units — which will, in turn, raise yet another American taxpayer — is as worthy as installing rooftop solar cells or leaving your fortune to your church.

In the context of the federal budget, the $355 million that this credit costs the country is a paltry sum. No politician who is willing to discard this tax rule can claim to have the interests of American families at heart.

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Wendy Pettit

Wendy Pettit is a writer for NYT and writes for other publications on her spare time. She lives in Chicago with her husband and her dog Zuko.

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