State gives a boost to foster care, adoption

By Tessa Weinberg
Missouri Independent

Gov. Mike Parson this week signed into law a pair of bills that will expand tax credits for foster and adoptive families and that aim to encourage donations to domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers and maternity homes.

The bills, sponsored by Rep. Hannah Kelly, R-Mountain Grove, received bipartisan support, and were some of the earliest to pass out of the Missouri House in late January.

“Missouri has to do a better job of making sure we provide homes for children. And that means making sure that bureaucracy gets out of the way in what’s really important — and that’s the life of the child,” Parson said Thursday standing in front of the Capitol.

Parson signed the bill surrounded by the first lady, Teresa, lawmakers who helped shepherd the bills through the legislature and a group of kids who got to sign their own names to ceremonial copies of the legislation.

The bills were not only a priority for House Speaker Rob Vescovo but also deeply personal. Vescovo, an Arnold Republican, spent 15 months in foster care as a child, and said Thursday that he hopes to make the adoption and foster care system a continued focus of his for the next few years.

“Today’s a really great day,” Vescovo said, “and I don’t think anybody will ever understand how important these two bills will be to some of these future children that we can help.”

Parson said that nearly two years ago he and his wife went through the adoption process with their son and daughter-in-law, and had “that experience of a little girl that you don’t know where she would have ended up today, if it hadn’t been for her being able to come to our family.”

House Bill 429 authorizes tax credits for both foster parents and adoptive parents for costs associated with providing care and the adoption.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2022, foster parents who provide care for at least six months will be eligible to claim an income tax deduction of up to $5,000 for a married couple or $2,500 for an individual.

That same date, adoptive parents will be eligible to claim a tax credit of up to $10,000 for adoption expenses. Previously, the tax credit was only available to parents adopting children with special needs. The bill expands that eligibility, but still places a priority on applications from families adopting special needs children who are wards of the state.

Tax credits claimed for the adoption of children with special needs have experienced a steep decline since 2016, which was credited to a 2013 law that prohibited the tax credit being claimed for out-of-state adoptions, according to a fiscal analysis of the bill.

The credits are capped at $6 million per year — a $4 million increase injected by the Senate from the prior cap of $2 million set by the House.

Additional provisions tacked onto the bill would establish the “Birth Match Program,” which was sponsored in bills by both Kelly and Sen. Andrew Koenig, a Republican from Manchester.

The program would require the Department of Social Services to share data with the State Registrar’s office when a child is born to a parent whose parental rights were previously terminated or who were found to have committed child abuse or neglect. Case workers would then be required to make an effort to offer services.

Other provisions of the bill include prioritizing custody for people closest in relation to a child, consolidating adoption regulations under the Children’s Division of DSS and adding felony convictions that could lead to the termination of parental rights — which had garnered opposition from some Democratic lawmakers that a felony conviction for failure to pay child support for a year was included.

“Today is about 13,917 children that are in the foster care system,” Kelly said. “And today is about the families and the hearts that are ready and waiting to give them love and security and permanency.”

Kelly has experienced firsthand what it is like to be a foster parent and adopted her daughter after becoming one. Kelly said the bills’ passage was a team effort, “and a product of something really, really good that we’re going to be able to say, ‘We helped do that,’ long after we’re gone and these kids are leading our future of this great state.”

Domestic violence

House Bill 430, which was also signed Thursday, increases the tax credit people can claim when donating to a domestic violence shelter or maternity home from 50 percent to 70 percent of their contribution starting July 1, 2022. Donations to rape crisis centers were also added as eligible for the 70 percent tax credit.

In addition, the bill removed a $2 million annual cap for deductions claimed from donations to domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers and a $3.5 million cap for deductions related to maternity home donations.

The tax credit provisions came from a Senate bill sponsored by Koenig, and were amended onto HB 430. Like many of the lawmakers who worked on the issue, Koenig has also been a foster parent and his wife was an orphan at three years old, he said.

“It’s kind of rare to have that many legislators that make their number one priority kids,” Koenig said, later adding: “It may have looked easy, but there was actually a lot of behind the scenes negotiations happening on this bill.”

The bill was supported by groups like the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, who stressed there’s a lack of resources to meet the demand for services.

In 2019, out of 62,372 requests for service to Missouri domestic violence shelters, 26,068 went unmet because organizations didn’t have the resources to support them, according to MCADSV data.

Colleen Coble, the organization’s CEO, said it was fitting Parson signed into law a rape crisis center tax credit program amid Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

“We are grateful for the leadership of Rep. Kelly, Sen. Koenig, Gov. Parson and others for their work on this legislation that will help provide life-changing services by supporting both rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters,” Coble said in a statement.

Tessa Weinberg covers education, health care and the legislature. She previously covered the Missouri statehouse for The Kansas City Star and The Columbia Missourian.