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Words into action

Pence can make good on adoption-subsidy pledge


“The check is in the mail” is known as one of the great stalling tactics. But when it comes to Indiana social services, “we didn't have the money to pay for it” and “we didn't have time to deal with it” are right up there, too.

Both of those excuses have been trotted out to explain why 1,400 families who have adopted special-needs children from foster care haven't received subsidies they were led to believe might materialize. The truth, in this case, lies somewhere between the Indiana Department of Child Services and the legislature. The buck, as Harry Truman used to say, should stop at Gov. Mike Pence's desk.

Sen. John Broden, the South Bend Democrat who has championed this cause for several years without success, says that Indiana is the only state in the union that doesn't provide a subsidy to families that adopt from foster care. The kids these families are adopting often have chronic illnesses, are born with drugs in their systems or have been sexually, physically or emotionally abused. Helping families pay for the special care that most of those children need just isn't an issue in most places.

It wasn't an issue in Indiana until six years ago. Local judges used to decide whether adopting families were eligible for assistance and the money was paid by the counties. But when the sales tax was raised in 2008, responsibility for the subsidy program was transferred to the DCS. The federal government provides subsidies to about half the families who need them.By 2017, virtually all the subsidies to foster-adoption families will be supplied federally.

But that will be too late for more than 1,400 families that have been ruled eligible for a subsidy by the DCS since 2009. Those families are grandfathered into the state system.

The DCS signed contracts with them promising to pay the subsidies if funds became available.But somehow that hasn't happened, though the department has returned more than $240 million to state treasuries during that time and Broden has raised the issue during every legislative session.

Last week, The Indianapolis Star reported that the DCS says the reason it couldn't reimburse families is that the legislature didn't appropriate any money specifically for that purpose.

Child Services was answering a lawsuit by a LaPorte woman named Debra Moss who is one of those on the list for the long-awaited adoption subsidies. Moss' attorney contends that the payments “weren't contingent on an appropriation from the legislature” and contends that the DCS has returned $4 million more in unspent funds even since the lawsuit was filed, according to The Star.

Broden said Mondayhe is not involved in Moss' lawsuit and thus not familiar with those contentions. It's possible, he said, that the DCS looked only at particular line items rather than shifting funds to where they were needed within the department. But, Broden said, the money that was reverted by DCS could have funded the subsidy program “many times over.” A study by the state's Legislative Services Agency put the effect of funding the program at$7 million to $13 million a year, and that was a high estimate, Broden believes.

Of course, those costs are ultimately offset by the savings to the state when a foster child is adopted. Right now, families who can't afford special services and care are discouraged from adopting those kids, and the rate of adoptions has gone down.

Broden said he plans to reintroduce his bill specifically to authorize DCS to pay the subsidies when the legislature reconvenes in January.“I'm proceeding on the track as if there wasn't a lawsuit,” he said. Like many legislators, he was told fiscally related measures couldn't be dealt with during this year's short session.

“This is not a ticking time bomb” of long-term expenditures, Broden points out. “This is actually going to be a declining subsidy.” The age of children who qualify for the federal subsidy is dropping every year; by 2017, foster children 2 years old or older who enter the system will be covered. But the 1,400 people now waiting for help can only get it from the state. And they need it now.

Isn't it high time for Pence, who has said he wants to make Indiana the most adoption-friendly state in the union, to step in and demand that the subsidy issue be resolved?