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Adoption Fairness Bill: Bipartisan Legislation for Tribal Special Needs Children

Adoption tax credit fairness for tribes: Bill would give parents adopting tribal special needs children an adoption tax credit available to states

U.S. Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and James Inhofe (R-OK) as well as U.S. Representatives Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Tom Cole (R-OK) reintroduced bipartisan legislation this week which they say will ‘ease the financial challenges of adopting special needs children in tribal communities throughout the country.”

According to a joint release by the Senator’s and Representatives’ offices, the bill would enable parents, that are adopting special needs children through tribal governments to claim a full adoption tax credit, just as they could through states.

In order to incentivize parents to adopt children who might otherwise have a difficult time getting placed in adoptive homes, Congress created the ‘special needs’ determination, which grants parents an adoption tax credit -- but only in states.

Because tribal governments are not able to officially designate children as having special needs, parents currently seeking to adopt special needs children within Indian country are not able to claim the adoption tax credit available to them in all 50 states.

United States Senator for North Dakota Heidi Heitkamp has teamed up with Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Al Franken (D-MN), to unveil their effort to create legislation to fund trauma-informed health care across the country. The bill is titled the Trauma-Informed Care for Children and Families Act. While the senators will assist to bring their efforts nationwide, Senator Heitkamp says she will be focused on how trauma impacts Native children and communities. Photo Vincent Schilling

In addition to the legislation to benefit Tribal special needs children, United States Senator for North Dakota Heidi Heitkamp recently teamed up with Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Al Franken (D-MN), to unveil their effort to create legislation to fund trauma-informed health care across the country that benefits Native and rural communities.

“Unfortunately, parents are unable to access full tax credit support when they adopt a child with special needs from tribal governments – but they can when they adopt through any of our nation’s 50 state governments,” Heitkamp said in the release. “That puts children in Indian country in need of safe, healthy environments at an immediate disadvantage – and it’s unacceptable. Every child – regardless of their background – should be able to grow in a nurturing and supportive environment, which is what our bipartisan bill aims to accomplish.”

By allowing tribal governments to designate children as having special needs, Heitkamp, Inhofe, Kilmer and Cole’s Tribal Adoption Parity Act they say “would promote adoption of all children in need of a healthy family environment and help to address the fact that out-of-pocket costs are typically higher for parents of children with special medical needs and disabilities.

Senator Heitkamp says that this lack of access to financial support can act as a deterrent for parents who would otherwise adopt children from Indian country. <


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According to Heitkamp’s office, in 2014, over 81 percent of children in the adoption system were identified as having special needs – including 100 percent of the 96 children that were adopted in North Dakota in 2014.

“North Dakota is blessed with parents who open their homes to children with special physical and health needs – and accommodating those needs can come at steep financial costs,” said Heitkamp in the release.

“Every child is deserving of a loving and caring home, regardless of their background,” said Inhofe in the release. “This legislation helps level the playing field for children with special needs in tribal communities who are up for adoption. It is common sense that all adoptive parents should have access to this tax credit, available in all 50 states, that helps ease the financial burdens often associated with special needs. I look forward to working with my colleagues on this bipartisan initiative.”

“Our bipartisan, bicameral legislation will help Native American kids with special needs find a loving home,” said Kilmer in the release. “It does so by following a proven model. The federal adoption tax credit has helped make the dreams of thousands of American families come true. Parents who adopt special needs children through tribal courts should have access to the same resources and tax relief. It’s time for Congress to provide equal treatment under the law for Native American children.”

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Rep. Tom Cole.

“We cannot be more thankful for the families wishing to expand through adoption – especially those willing to support children with disabilities. These children in need of adoption in Indian country should not be excluded. This bill is an achievement for Indian country in allowing these children to be welcomed into loving homes across the nation,” said Cole in the release.

In addition to Heitkamp, Inhofe, Kilmer and Cole, co-sponsors of the bill include U.S. Senators Dean Heller (R-NV), Brian Schatz (D-HI), John Hoeven (R-ND), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Tom Udall (D-NM).

Other cosponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives include Don Young (R-AK), Ron Kind (D-WI) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA).

Click here to learn more about the bill and Click here to read a letter of support from Chairman Dave Archambault II on behalf of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

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