Tahlequah Daily Press


March 12, 2014

Tax break for people raising grandchildren a commendable move

TAHLEQUAH — In states with high rates of poverty, teen pregnancy and drug abuse, like Oklahoma, it’s not uncommon for grandparents to be raising their grandchildren. Sometimes the situation is temporary, but other times, the families have decided the children are better off with permanent placement in the grandparents’ homes.

Though the phrase has taken on negative connotations after being overused by politicians, it really did “take a village” to raise a child at one time. Grandparents, and even aunts and uncles, played key roles in bringing youngsters to adulthood. Oftentimes the entire family lived in the same home, or in close proximity. Adult children cared for their own parents as they aged, though they were still in the workforce or minding the home. At the same time, the grandparents kept an eye on the kids, who benefited from the wisdom and experience of their elders.

As Americans adopted the “rugged individualist” philosophy and sought their own fortunes farther afield, nuclear families began to spread out. The symbiotic relationships began to disappear, with families only getting together over the Thanksgiving turkey or for a weekend during the summer. Perhaps some of that loss of connection can explain why many families have come full circle, with grandparents once again raising children. Only now, the parents may be missing in action, or at least incapable of taking care of their kids.

In Oklahoma, the statistics are alarming: Nearly 11 percent of all minor children here are in the care of their grandparents. According to Census data, 44,430 Sooner State grandparents have legal custody of grandkids; 71,850 grandparents live in the same home as their grandkids. These folks aren’t just doing their own adult kids a favor. They’re saving the state a considerable amount of time and money by keeping the children out of foster care, and by doing so, they are sustaining at least some family ties.

Although most grandparents would gladly take on this burden as a reward in itself, many older folks are on fixed incomes. They didn’t plan for their lives to unfold this way, so they didn’t set aside discretionary income to bring up another generation. That’s why House Bill 2763, authored by State Rep. Brian Renegar, is such a good idea.

Renegar, a Democrat who represents Latimer, LeFore and Pittsburg counties, has introduced a measure that would provide a tax break for Oklahomans who are raising their grandchildren. Renegar closed a loophole that could have allowed for fraud, by requiring the grandparents to have a court order in place. The benefit would amount to $5,000 per grandchild as a state income tax deduction. For a guardian who is nurturing a child in the ideal manner, this money will hardly scratch the surface of expenses incurred. But it will help lift some of these kids – and their grandparents – out of abject poverty.

As of this week, the measure passed the House 91-0 and goes now to the Senate, where it should meet with similar approval. Most legislators are wetting all over themselves in their eagerness to give oil and gas companies billions of dollars in handouts, so they should be able to muster a little generosity to help our state’s most at-risk children.

Our kids are a far more precious resource than fossil fuels, and this tax break might just help protect that resource.

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