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The state Department of Social and Health Services has mailed letters to more than 9,000 families of adopted children requesting voluntary reductions to monthly adoption support payments.
The payments go to families who have adopted special-needs children, who can be children with disabilities or sets of siblings.
The request was mandated by a bill passed in the 2012 legislative session aimed at curtailing costs in the state’s adoption support program for families who adopt children with special needs who were in state custody. The bill is part of the state’s overall effort to reduce its budget in the face of hard economic times.
“The department asks that you review your family’s financial situation to determine whether your family can accommodate a reduction in your current adoption support monthly payment,” the letter states. “The amount can be any amount you determine is feasible.”
Those who agree to a reduction are asked to fill out a form and return it to the state’s Adoption Support Program.
House Bill 2657 required that DSHS request that families who can afford it agree to a reduction in benefits. The bill also reduced the maximum amount a family could receive in adoption support payments. Families currently can receive as much in adoption support payments as they would receive in foster care maintenance payments, which can range from $423.68 to $1,377.60 per month per child, depending on the extent of the child’s needs.
Under the new law, new contracts could provide adoption support of no more than 80 percent of foster care maintenance payments, effective in July 2013.
DSHS didn’t have a count as of Oct. 29 of how many families have agreed to a reduction.
The amount of adoption support payments is determined to fit an adopted child’s needs, and set in a negotiated contract between the adoptive family and the Children’s Administration. In 2012, the state will pay families a total of about $90.9 million in adoption support, said Chris Case, DSHS spokeswoman.
‘Not a good feeling’
The letters have alarmed some adoptive families who count on the income to get by.
Clark County adoptive parents Joe and Sarah Perry found the letter in their mailbox late last month.
“When I opened the letter, it was not a good feeling in my stomach,” Sarah Perry said. The couple said they adopted their three sons 10 years ago because they wanted to have a family.
The boys, now ages 10, 13 and 14, are siblings and each has challenges, including attention deficit disorder, anxiety, reactive attachment disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. The youngest tested positive for drugs when he was born, Joe Perry said.
The couple receive about $2,300 per month in adoption support payments for all three children.
They said they didn’t know they would receive adoption support payments and would have adopted the children without any compensation, but the assurance of the payments affected financial decisions the family made, including the decision to purchase a larger home so the children could have their own rooms. The mortgage is now underwater due to a decrease in value, Joe Perry said. The adoption support payments have helped the family to keep up on mortgage payments during brief periods when Joe Perry has been laid off from his job.
The couple said they fear the letter may signal an erosion of support for adoptive families.
“I don’t have a problem with them asking,” Joe Perry said. “My biggest concern is, if they’re asking for volunteers, how long until they make reductions mandatory?”
“I can’t afford a reduction,” he said. “I’m trying to provide for my family, which I am, but it’s difficult. We are a single-income family. We need my wife to stay home because of the kids’ behavioral issues.”
Adoption support payments are governed by contract, so mandatory reductions are unlikely.