Thursday, October 18, 2012
Politics is as personal as ever, day 5: Stimulus looks like a 3 bedroom ranch
When the real estate market crashed in September 2008, Darling Virgo and I were in the same position as a lot of Americans. We had placed all the money saved up during our pre-parenting years (working for nickels at rusty little non-profits) in what seemed like a sound investment: a small three unit building in downtown Portland in which we lived and landlorded. We bought that building about six months before the peak of the (artificially enhanced) real estate boom, so it's safe to say by the time President Obama took office, our building was worth about 75% of what we paid for it.
And we wanted to move.
We'd been planning to move out of state for a while (it's a long story, but if you want to read it, by all means do) except it was hard to suck up our pride--and our savings--and sell that building.
By September 2009 we were ready to give it a try. We put it on the market for what turned out to be a very hopeful price and still had nothing to show for it by the summer of 2010 when we were packing our moving van and heading to beautiful Columbus, Ohio. We were very absent landlords for a year, busy making life for our small crowd of children in a new city with no family or established friends to lean on. By that winter, I came to dread my Facebook feed, full of people back East posting pictures of delicately falling snow and sled covered hills, knowing that soon my phone would ring with news the plowers had not come to clear out the driveway. Nor had they de-iced the steps. Or the sidewalks.
When we finally sold the building in June of 2011 it wasn't a short sale, thank God. But I'll tell you, it wasn't very tall either. Still, we were relieved to be free of the burden, even though it meant we lost most of our investment and would have start saving for a down payment all over again. And this time with three children to feed on one income, or two incomes and heaps of child care expenses.
But then (can somebody please cue up Hail to the Chief?) President Obama's administration had the brilliant idea of getting more cash flowing into the economy by making good on a promise to adoptive parents.
See, there's a thing called the adoption tax credit. The federal government reimburses families up to about $10,000 in adoption expenses so that the nation's annual adoption bill does not land entirely on adoptive parents. The only problem is, it used to take a long time to get the money back. For one thing, you couldn't claim the credit until the adoption was finalized, which often doesn't happen until the tax year after you've paid all those expenses. So it could be a good 15 to 18 months before you receive that credit. But the bigger problem was that if you didn't make enough money to pay $10,000 in taxes, then you didn't get that $10,000 back. At least not in the first year. You could file for it up to five years after the adoption, but then if you still hadn't gotten back the full $10,000, you were ineligible to claim the remaining balance. (See how that works? The more you earn, the less you pay.) So for a family like ours who had taken out loans to finance three adoptions in five years, it was starting to look like we would never see more than a third of what we were supposed to be able to claim.
But starting in 2011, the Obama Administration changed the tax code, as a stimulus measure, and allowed adoptive families to claim the entire amount for every adoption previously finalized. It didn't matter if you'd passed the five year mark. It didn't matter how much you owed in taxes. It didn't matter how many adoption credits you had left to claim. You. Would. Get. It. All.
Can you imagine?
This is what stimulus looks like folks. This is genius economic policy. Because the people who benefited from this change in tax code are not people who can take that money and shelve it in a 401K. If they were, they would have collected that tax credit in entirety the first year. By definition, the families affected by this change are the families who have enough rainy day projects backed up to fill a new Great Lake.
And here was the proof. Suddenly my Facebook feed was full of adoptive parents with plans. Replace the hot water heater! New carpet in the living room! Insulation in the walls! Aw hell, we're going to Disney World!
For my family, this stimulus measure looked like a down payment on a three bedroom ranch across the street from our favorite public elementary school in Columbus. It looked like a chance to start over, to rebuild what we had lost.
And it felt like someone was listening. Like someone was working pretty damn hard to find every avenue, every tunnel, every means of helping folks like us get back up.