FREMONT, Ind. – This past week we’ve learned that Indiana has essentially stiffed 1,400 families who have adopted special needs children. The subsidies they were promised to raise kids in the state’s foster child program have been denied, prompting one LaPorte mother to call Indiana a “deadbeat parent.”
What sends this story into the outrageous category is that over the past five years, the Department of Child Services has reverted $240 million back to the state general fund, and this has become a point of boasting for some of our politicians who see a $2 billion budget surplus as a political attribute.
The other stunning aspect is that when I broached the topic with several of the state’s leading family organizations, they were oblivious to the entire matter. It is clear to me that these “family” organizations simply concentrate on abortion, the constitutional marriage amendment and the fundraising that goes with it.
Howard County Republican Chairman Craig Dunn in his Howey Politics Indiana column earlier this year, observed of pro-life organizations: “They seem to labor under a thought process that says, ‘If you have an unwanted pregnancy, have the baby. If you have been told that you will have a baby with congenital birth defects, have the baby. If you've been raped and are pregnant, have the baby.’ Then, when the baby arrives, their attitude transforms to, ‘It's your problem, deal with it!’”
Dunn continued, “We simply can no longer demand that a woman give birth to a baby and then feel no sense of responsibility for the well-being of the child.”
Here is what has transpired over the past week or so. The Indianapolis Star and WTHR-TV reported that Debra Moss of LaPorte is the adoptive parent who is suing the Indiana Department of Child Services over unpaid adoption subsidies. In calling the state a “deadbeat parent,” Moss claimed that the state is no better than the birth parents from whom it removes children. Moss’ lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, claims DCS promised in a contract to pay adoption subsidies to those families “if funding becomes available.”
In December 2013, with state revenues falling short of projections, Gov. Mike Pence instructed state agencies to revert 1.5 percent of funds, or $25 million. “The cost-saving measures we are implementing today will ensure that Indiana remains fiscally sound during these uncertain times,” Pence said. “Fiscal integrity is the foundation of prosperity.”
The previous July, Pence and then-Auditor Tim Berry announced a $1.94 billion budget surplus. The surplus has since become a national talking point for Pence as he seeks traction for a 2016 presidential race. “Indiana is strong and growing stronger, and the closeout report confirms the balanced approach that we took in the enacted budget,” Pence said.
“It doesn’t do us any good to have a surplus that’s built on the backs of Hoosiers, on the backs of the less fortunate. And these kids have nobody to speak for them but the state,” Indiana State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon told WBEZ. “The padding of the surplus that’s been touted nationwide.”
In April 2013, Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane cited a DCS report showing that during fiscal year 2011, 40 child fatalities due to abuse and neglect were reported. “Maybe the whole system, the laws failed these people,” DCS Director Mary Beth Bonaventura told WBEZ. “Could we have done things better? Probably. I think without question this is the most important job in the state.”
When I asked Micah Clark of the American Family Association of Indiana about this story, he responded, “I am not sure that I am the best person to comment as my knowledge of this is extremely thin and I doubt if any comments I could make would be very profound. Now we have this news of those very resources going back to the tax spending machine that is the legislature. It is good when agencies can return unnecessary funds, but in this case, one has to wonder why this happened when we seem to be failing in our duty to protect children as best we can as a state.”
Asked how much of the DCS budget has been reverted under the Pence administration, his press secretary, Kara Brooks, said DSC reverted $3 million in Fiscal Year 2013. She also said that Pence signed legislation into law giving adopting parents a $1,000 tax credit.
Brooks added that Pence “is reviewing the legal issues of this matter.”
In his second State of the State address last January, Gov. Pence called for an emphasis on adoption. “Adoption is a beautiful way for families to come together forever,” Pence said. “Let’s make it our aim to make Indiana the most pro-adoption state in America.”
So now it’s time for Pence to back up this pro-adoption rhetoric. I hope he calls a press conference in the next few days and tells us that these adopting special needs families get the support they were promised.
Doing the right thing is more important than a $2 billion surplus.
Howey, a former Elkhart Truth reporter, publishes at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Twitter @hwypol.