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House Votes to Back Tax Credits for Adoptions

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In an effort to encourage adoption, the House overwhelmingly passed a measure Friday that would provide a tax credit of up to $5,000 per child to offset adoption costs incurred by middle-income families.

The measure, approved, 393 to 15, also forbids state and private agencies to delay placement of children with available families while attempts are made to find parents of the same race, color or national origin as the child.

“In America today, there is no reason why any child should be denied a loving family,” Rep. Bill Archer (R-Texas), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said in support of the GOP measure. “It is simply not right to deny a child the opportunity to grow up in a loving home because the parents are not wealthy or [are] of a different race.”

President Clinton, who has been actively promoting a pro-family agenda in his reelection campaign, has voiced strong support for the adoption package, which now goes to the Senate for consideration.

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According to the measure’s supporters, about a half-million children are in the nation’s foster care system at any time. Only a small percentage are adopted, in part because of the cost and assorted technical barriers.

Forty states have regulations or practices that emphasize matching children with parents of the same race. But while two-thirds of the children awaiting adoption nationwide are black, less than a third of the families wanting to adopt are black. Black and other minority children wait much longer for adoption than white children.

The measure would ease placement of children with parents of other races.

“It is certain that if our society demands that children be matched by race with adoptive parents, black children will continue to languish in foster care,” Archer said. “Many of them will never be adopted.”

The measure also includes a contentious provision that would allow state courts in some cases to preempt a process that steers Native American children to families of that race.

The administration and Indian rights groups oppose this provision, saying that it infringes on the rights of tribes. By a narrow margin, 212 to 195, the House defeated an effort to strike it.

Under the measure, families with incomes of as much as $75,000 would be permitted to claim tax credits of as much as $5,000 for each child for the costs of adopting an American or foreign-born child. For families with incomes of $75,000 to $115,000, the credit would be reduced.

The measure would cost the treasury an estimated $1.7 billion in lost tax revenue over six years.

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While much of the debate focused on helping children without parents, the measure was also aimed at helping adults who want to add meaning to their lives by building a family.

For instance, it would help put expensive adoptions of foreign-born infants within reach of more people. Waiting lists for American infants are years long in most states.

Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) told the House about the “glory” he has experienced as the adoptive father of a Korean-born infant daughter. He is soon to adopt another Korean child.

“The financial burdens of adoption can keep many beautiful families from enjoying this experience,” he said.

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Adoptions through private agencies typically cost from $10,000 to $20,000.

The only amendment offered on the legislative package was the one that sought, unsuccessfully, to weaken the provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978.

That act was designed to curb a flood of adoptions of Indian children by parents outside the child’s tribe, in some cases against the wishes of the natural parents.

The law gives tribal governments jurisdiction in cases involving the custody of tribe members, and tribes establish their own standards for membership.

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The measure passed Friday would shift jurisdiction back to state courts, giving them authority over children of Native American ancestry whose parents do not maintain “significant social, cultural or political affiliation with the tribe.”

It stirred outrage among Native American groups.

“It significantly infringes on our tribes’ sovereign prerogative to determine who our members are,” said Mark Tilden, an attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, which is based in Boulder, Colo.

He charged that the courts would be able to “make a subjective decision as to who our members are. It throws us back to the days before the Indian Child Welfare Act was passed.”

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However, proponents of the new measure charged that tribes were intervening in adoptions of children with only a tiny fraction of Indian blood or little association with the tribe.

Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio), herself an adoptive mother, cited a long custody battle involving two constituents, Jim and Colette Rost of Columbus, Ohio.

The couple unknowingly adopted newborn twins with some Indian lineage, and four months later, the children’s paternal grandmother sued for custody with the support of the Pomo tribe.

“If they can claim that’s an Indian child and then take that child from the only secure family it’s ever had, it’s not hard for me to see what we have to do,” Pryce said.

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“If a child is almost entirely Hispanic or African American or Asian or Irish American but has some trace of Indian lineage under the current application [of the law] these heritages can be denied,” she added.

Opponents of the provision argued that the tribes had not been sufficiently consulted about the change and urged Congress to strike it from the measure.

“We have a special relationship with Indian tribes,” Rep. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.), said in opposition to the provision, which he called “an unbridled attempt to take away their sovereignty.”


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