Jaret Vogel called me last year after I wrote an article about the the dilemma facing families when their mentally ill child turns 18-years-old. There had been a horrific shooting at a family’s Thanksgiving dinner in 2009. The shooter, 35-years-old, killed his twin sisters, his 76-year-old aunt and 6-year-old cousin asleep in her bed. He had a 16-year history of mental illness.
As anyone who has an adult child with a mental illness can tell you, there is not much you can do when that child has all the rights and responsibilities of an adult. They can make their own financial, legal and health care decisions. That means the the programs and laws available to make sure they get the care they need – even if they don’t want it – vanish. Often, because of privacy laws, parents cannot even learn about their adult child’s decisions until there is a crisis.
That’s why Vogel called me. As a financial services professional in South Florida, Vogel had seen anguished families’ attempts to become the legal guardians of their disabled adult children. It takes thousands of dollars and a court order to establish guardianship. By the time a mentally ill child becomes and adult, many families are tapped dry – having already spent thousands of dollars on medications, treatment, hospital stays and therapy.
Vogel had an idea. Why not provide a refundable tax credit for the cost of establishing guardianship for an adult with disabilities? Of course the family or parents would still have to come up with the money to cover the expenses up-front, but they would get that money back – up to $5,000 – from the IRS.
The tax credit would cover all disabilities recognized by Social Security – not just mental illness. It would be available on a sliding scale. A single filer making less than $75,000 would get the full credit and the amount would decrease as income approached $90,000 – the maximum limit for eligibility. Joint filers making less than $150,000 would also be eligible for the full amount until their income reached $165,000.
Vogel’s idea sounded brilliant but to be honest, it sounded too brilliant. Even though Vogel had founded a non-profit called the Special Needs Tax Credit Alliance to promote the credit, I couldn’t see it happening. Tax breaks are not exactly popular in Washington right now. So, I forgot about Vogel and his idea.
Until last week. Vogel called to say he had not only found a Congressman to support the credit, the bill had actually been submitted to Congress and was now before the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee. Congressman Ted Deutch, a Democrat from Florida and advocate of health care during his tenure in the Florida Senate, introduced the bill on March 2. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, (D-NY) has co-sponsored the bill and it gained bipartisan support from Republican co-sponsor David McKinley of West Virginia.
The little 4-page bill , The Special Needs Tax Credit, did not grab headlines. It’s cost to taxpayers would be minimal. People with disabilities – especially those with mental illnesses who end up in emergency rooms and jails – would receive better care. There would be fewer court hearings for emergency guardianships, restraining orders and involuntary commitments.
What’s not to love about H.R. 878? It’s simple and logical. It’s common sense at its finest. And therein lies the problem: Lawmakers have a tough time with simplicity and logic – and an even tougher time with common sense.