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Helping families financially during a time of trial

The Nebraska Legislature’s regular 2021 legislative session is on its last lap, and will complete its work May 27. The Conference has supported several bills that have already been made into law. We have also supported other bills working their way through the legislative process, including LB597, introduced by Sen. Joni Albrecht, which would offer help to families facing medical bills and burial costs after losing a child to stillbirth.

The medical definition of stillbirth is the delivery of a baby who has died in utero any time after the 20th week of gestation. When a family loses a son or daughter in this way, it is a time of acute familial suffering. Pope Francis reflected a few years ago that “[f]or parents, surviving their own children is particularly heartbreaking; it contradicts the fundamental nature of the very relationships that give meaning to the family. The loss of a son or daughter is like time stopping altogether: it opens a chasm that swallows both past and future.” And it is in these experiences that God and the Church “weep with the tears of a father and mother.”

In the midst of all this, many families face difficult financial circumstances. A 2013 study, stating that “stillbirth deliveries have not only emotional but economic consequences,” found that average hospital costs for mothers who have a stillborn delivery are more than $750 higher than if their baby had been born alive. Families will also have spent money preparing their home for the arrival of a new child, and after their loss they may need to take time off from work to grieve. Finally, they must plan and pay for their child’s burial.

LB597 allows a one-time, $2,000 refundable state income tax credit for a parent or family whose child is stillborn. Its purpose is to offer a small amount of financial support to those families who are facing financial burdens at the same time they are grieving the loss of a child.

After receiving a favorable hearing with no opposition testimony and no votes against its advance in the Revenue Committee, LB597 was amended into a larger tax-related bill, LB432, which has a good chance to pass this year. In fact, there is likelihood that between the time this column is written and published, LB432 might have passed through the third and final round of debate. Despite its warm reception in the Revenue Committee, LB597 (now LB432) roused opposition by a few Senators in its first round of debate by the full Legislature.

Sen. Carol Blood, one of the few senators who vocally opposed LB597 and voted against its inclusion in LB432 on General File, suggested that LB597 is an unseemly offer to “replace” a human life with money. This is not so. No tax credit will heal the wound in the heart of a family that comes with losing a child, and LB597 is not an attempt to do so. Its purpose is to help families carry unexpected financial burdens at the same time they have experienced a grave loss.

Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh also voiced opposition to the bill, based on her assertion that it would be difficult or impossible to determine who is entitled to the credit if the mother and father do not file a joint tax return. While such a situation seems like a difficult one on its face, the solution is very simple and is found right in the text of the bill. The parent for whom the child would have been a dependent—that is, who would have lived with the child for more than half the year had the child lived—is the one entitled to the tax credit. The same situation faces those families where a child is born alive and dies moments after birth—those families are entitled by law to a tax deduction and certain federal tax credits for that year, despite the death of the child. Should the parents not file a joint tax return, the parent with whom the child would have spent more than half the year is the parent entitled to the tax credit.

LB597 is worthy of support. It is a way to help families financially during a time of trial, suffering, and healing, which is also a time of increased financial cost for them. Our state and federal governments recognize through tax incentives the financial costs families bear to raise their children. LB597 is a recognition of the costs borne by families who have lost a child as well.

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