Oklahoma: Legislature passes tax break for foster families

By Elizabeth Keys in the Stillwater NewsPress

— June 10, 2014

STILLWATER, Okla. — All foster parents will be awarded a $5,000 income-tax exemption as compensation for providing care for foster children under Senate Bill 1621.

Existing law authorizes a $2,500 deduction for single foster parents and $5,000 for a married foster couple filing jointly. The deduction for married couples filing their income taxes separately will remain at $2,500.

“We need more foster parents in Oklahoma,” said Rep. Pat Ownbey, R-Ardmore, sponsor of the bill. “Anything we can do to bolster foster parents is good for Oklahoma’s child welfare system.”

The bill, which was co-authored by Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, coasted through the House and the Senate unopposed and was signed June 3 by Gov. Mary Fallin.

There are more than 10,000 children in the Oklahoma foster care system with more foster parents being sought. A monthly report on the progress of Oklahoma’s child welfare system confirms the state needs more family homes. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services releases the reports as part of the Pinnacle Plan, a negotiated settlement agreement stemming from a federal class action lawsuit in 2008 which alleged abuses of children in foster care. The suit was filed by the nonprofit Children’s Rights with the 2012 agreement resulting in a five-year plan.

DHS spokeswoman Sheree Powell said any kind of financial break for families who are caring for abused and neglected children is an incentive but “we know people don’t do it for the money.”

The state provides a daily stipend which recently had a rate increase, she said. Another rate increase for caring for foster children is expected to go into effect in July.

DHS was able to incorporate the first rate increase in 25 years in July 2012. Powell said the attention on the child welfare system has moved the legislature to appropriate the funds needed to instigate rate increases for the expense of caring for the children in homes. She said the government realizes they can’t do it alone and has embraced the help of community and faith-based organizations with similar missions to DHS.

In Stillwater, Leanne Chaffin and Vickie Karns are coordinating support services for families interested in being foster parents. Call 405-372-5854 for information about a co-op with equipment and clothes to help Child SHARE foster parents get supplies needed to welcome children to their home. The First United Methodist Church has taken the lead in providing a store-type location filled with items to be selected for the foster child’s needs. Families interested in becoming foster parents or providing respite care should call 866-978-2956 to learn more about the process.

For more information about volunteer opportunities at the Child SHARE Co-op, contact mlchaffin78@gmail.com or vickie.karns@okstate.edu.

original: http://www.stwnewspress.com/local/x998004580/Legislature-passes-tax-break-for-foster-parents