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Posted on Wed. Aug. 13, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

State resuming subsidies for new adoptions

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•Parents who have questions about the State Adoption Subsidy may call the Department of Child Services at 877-265-0086.

INDIANAPOLIS — Hundreds of adoptive parents around the state will get long-promised adoption subsidies this year under a decision announced Tuesday by Gov. Mike Pence’s administration.

The move comes after a lawsuit was filed in June and after publicity about the fact that requests for subsidies have been denied while the state agency has left more than $240 million unspent in recent years.

“Although the State Adoption Subsidy is only a small piece of the assistance the state of Indiana offers to adoptive parents, it is my belief that funding the program this fiscal year is the right thing to do,” Pence said.

“At the same time, the Adoption Study Committee is now looking at this issue, and we appreciate their work to develop recommendations that address the needs of Hoosier families and effectively promote adoption.”

It will cost about $10 million a year and cover more than 1,800 kids on the waiting list for the aid.

The Indiana Department of Child Services has said the reason it wasn’t paying promised subsidies to parents who adopted children in foster care was that the legislature didn’t appropriate the money.

Most of the children who are adopted from state foster care are considered to be special needs, because they either have physical and emotional challenges or have a sibling who does.

Just a few days ago, the agency filed a response in court arguing that “DCS can make adoption subsidy payments only if DCS determines in its discretion that sufficient funds are available in the adoption assistance account and that sufficient funds can reasonably be anticipated to be available in the account during the term of the subsidy. … This is a condition precedent to payment that did not occur.”

But a statement Tuesday said the state will make the funds available through “reversion relief” – or excess money in its current budget. It is unclear exactly how the agency will legally spend money on a program that lawmakers did not include in the budget.

“As a state, we have an obligation to support these families who have stepped forward to adopt children who, through no fault of their own, have endured great pain and separation in their life,” said Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend. “I applaud the governor for this long overdue step of honoring the state’s financial commitment and obligation to these families.”

A restrictive federal adoption subsidy exists and is slowly being widened. The state pays part of that subsidy. But those who are ineligible for that program rely on state subsidies.

Before the Indiana General Assembly reformed property taxes, a county adoption subsidy was paid at the local level. Then legislators took over child welfare costs and raised the sales tax to cover that program and all school operating costs.

Somewhere in the shuffle, though, the state stopped paying subsidies for new adoptions. Adoption subsidies handled under the old county system have been grandfathered.

Starting in 2009, new families sign a contract with the state that says a subsidy may be available when funding is provided. And they are placed on a waiting list for such payments. The children are also eligible for Medicaid while on the waiting list.

Broden introduced a bill this year to mandate that subsidies are paid, but it was not given a hearing. The cost would be between $8 million and $26 million annually.

“I truly believe in the maxim that a society is ultimately judged by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens,” he said. “I am hard-pressed to imagine a more vulnerable class of people than abused and neglected children.”

Former DCS Director Jim Payne said people adopt out of love, not money, and said the number of adoptions had risen despite the lack of the subsidy. But adoptions have dropped since then – from 1,282 in 2012 to 1,033 in 2013.

The 2013 total is down from a high of almost 1,800 adoptions in 2011 and is the lowest since 2005.

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