BreakPoint: The Adoption Tax Credit and Lessons Learned

Christians, Politics, and Vigilance

If you think Christians should avoid politics, then it’s time to learn a lesson from the saga of the Adoption Tax Credit.

On November 9th, the House and Senate agreed that the Adoption Tax Credit would not be changed in any upcoming tax legislation. Now the reason that the threat of rescinding the credit was itself rescinded was the strong opposition by pro-life and pro-adoption forces who protested, and did so vigorously.

So all’s well that ends well, right? Well, not exactly. Even if the credit remains untouched as promised, there’s still a lesson to be learned here.

Now to be crystal clear: The Adoption Tax Credit “is not a deduction that reduces your income for purposes of determining your tax liability. Rather, it’s a tax refund based on a dollar for dollar reduction of your total tax liability.” Families making less than approximately $200,000 a year can receive up to $13,000 to offset the costs associated with adoption.

This makes a real difference. As Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife Mary Beth wrote in the Washington Post, “The average adoption costs between $25,000 and $40,000, and for many families, this is an insurmountable barrier.” And that’s before you take into account the “ongoing expenses of providing adequate services and therapies in post-adoption support.”

For the many families whose hearts are fuller than their wallets, the tax credit can make the difference between adopting and not adopting. And for kids in need of what those parents can give them, it can spell the difference between being raised by a loving family and being raised by the state.

Add to that the fact that the Adoption Tax Credit represents “a drop in the budgetary bucket,”—$300 million a year—and preserving it should have been a no-brainer.

And yet, it wasn’t. But for the uproar, it would have been repealed. Now, I’ve no idea why the repeal was proposed in the first place, and it’s unhelpful to speculate about other people’s motives. So instead I’d like to suggest what this episode can teach us about Christians and politics.

One of these lessons is the need for vigilance. The original proposed repeal was a few lines in a 429-page document. Obviously, few of us have the time or expertise to pour over such a document, but to those who do, we should show our gratitude. Their commitment and expertise keeps us informed even if the subject matter, such as tax law, is as dry as dust. Not everything that truly matters is entertaining.

Another lesson is about the nature of American politics. It is not cynical to note that much of our politics has more to do with access to the levers of power than with a search for the common good.

For the Christian, that means discernment and caution are mandatory. As Jesus told us, we’re to be “wise as serpents and as gentle as doves.”

Wisdom requires discernment, and the willingness to ask tough questions of those we normally support. An example of this discernment is Marvin Olasky’s column in the latest issue of WORLD magazine.

His critique goes beyond the proposed elimination of the Adoption Tax Credit. It also includes concerns about the bill’s impact on charitable giving. He cites a study that predicts that, if enacted as it stands now, the bill would lead to a five percent drop in contributions to religious organizations. He’s concerned that the selfish and childless will benefit at the expense of those “with bigger families and bigger hearts.”

Whether or not this proves to be the case, it does warrant our attention.

I’m grateful that Capitol Hill reversed itself on the Adoption Tax Credit, but the tax bill is still a work-very-much-in-progress. So, the need for discernment and vigilance by all Americans, especially people of faith, remains.


The Adoption Tax Credit and Lessons Learned: Christians, Politics, and Vigilance

As John has urged, we need to stay engaged and vigilant in all spheres, and that includes politics. To read more about the Adoption Tax Credit, click on the links in the Resources section.


A plan to eliminate the adoption tax credit would be devastating
  • Steven Curtis Chapman and Mary Beth Chapman | Washington Post | November 7, 2017
Tax reform trick or treat?
  • Marvin Olasky | WORLD magazine | November 2017

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  • ElrondPA

    I’m concerned that focusing on a potential drop in charitable contributions due to the proposed tax bill is making the end justify the means. The reason that some think contributions will drop is that the standard deduction will increase, which means fewer people will itemize and get a tax benefit for contributing. That means that you’re arguing in favor of a more complex tax code simply because it may induce some people to give, not because they’re morally compelled, but because they’re bribed by the tax deduction. The Realtors association is acting the same way; they’d prefer a smaller standard deduction because that makes the mortgage interest deduction more important for people, which they think keeps home prices high (and their commissions as well). Isn’t there something perverse and selfish about wanting to keep taxes high on people who don’t participate in your favorite tax break?

    The reason it’s so hard to reform the tax code is that there are so many special interest deductions and credits, each with its own constituency and campaign-donating lobby, each of which screams much more loudly for their little benefit than the mass of taxpayers calls for an overall reduction. These deductions and credits end up micromanaging our lives; is that really what we want government to do?

    I do think there’s a financial as well as moral case to make for the adoption tax credit; placing children in permanent adoptive homes is cheaper than keeping them in foster care, not to mention that it puts them on track for better life outcomes. I’m sure the adoption tax credit was originally proposed for elimination because someone saw only the cost and not the benefit.

  • Angie Ferrell

    As someone who worked at an adoption agency for years, there is a downside to these tax credits–they drive the cost up. Agencies, struggling to make ends meet because of the relentless number of regulations and hoops everyone is forced to jump through, adjust their cost to assume these credits are forthcoming, so in the end, like college financial aid, they often harm more then help.