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Lobbyist Money Help  

Stay-at-home moms with a tax break

February 04, 1999
By: Jennifer Lutz
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 116

JEFFERSON CITY - Mom changes the diapers, cleans the drool, wipes up the vomit, but no one gives her a paycheck for it. She picks up the toys, fixes their lunches and makes sure they don't miss the school bus.

Now, some lawmakers propose giving her a tax credit for her work. But it's not just "her" that would benefit.

Rather, any parent -- mom or day -- who stays at home would be eligible for a $400 tax break under the proposal.

"I think this is a wonderful idea," said stay-at-home mother Tracy Bernskoetter. "The most important thing is moms staying home with their kids."

The Bernskoetter family would be one of the estimated 200,000 families affected statewide by the bill.

"I felt there should be an incentive for mothers or parents to stay at home," said bill sponsor Rep. Jim Kreider, D-Nixa. "We need to reward mothers who are not working in order to be home."

"Lots of parents choose to provide the best child care possible, which is parents themselves," said bill co-sponsor Rep. Jim Howerton, R-Chilhowee.

To receive the tax credit, a qualified spouse would have to meet certain criteria. The person would have to provide child care and have a child six-years-old or younger, while not receiving public assistance or working full or part-time.

Single parents and double-wage-earning families would not benefit from the plan, which can lead to benefiting only the upper and middle class.

"I don't see why under certain circumstances mothers can't work full time and receive a tax break," said Peter DeSimone, executive director for Missouri Association for Social Welfare. "Upper and middle class mothers aren't the only ones who should be able to stay home with their children."

Since the legislation would apply to only a select group of people, working mothers could not enjoy the benefits of the tax break.

"Parents using public assistance to further themselves would be invaluable," said Tracy Marshall, director of ABC Day Care and Pre-School Inc. "Especially single mothers who wouldn't receive it otherwise."

Rachael Krall, leader of the Columbia group FEMALE, Formerly Employed Mothers at the Leading Edge, suggests a somewhat different approach.

She suggests providing tax cuts instead on a sliding scale by a family's income level, since it is hard to clearly define who is a stay-at-home mother.

"Any legislation to help mothers make a choice in a financially sound way is good," Krall said.

The national-wide FEMALE group formed for women who changed or stopped their careers to take care of their children.

"Legislation altered to help mothers with their decisions, helps all moms," Krall said.

Some argue the children of families who receive the tax break might be influenced the most.

"I think kids in day care are better than those who stay at home," said Asha Shukla, director of Panda Pals Preschool and Day Care in Columbia. "Kids at home do not know sometimes how to interact with other children."

"It [The tax break] can't help but benefit kids," Marshall said. "If mothers aren't going to stay home but receive the tax credit, then the children need to receive quality day care."

As a former teacher at the Walnut Creek Day School, Bernskoetter decided to stay at home with her two children. While any amount of a tax break might seem like a relief, she said the family spent an average of $1500 a year on child care.

"I worked 40-plus hours a week and we almost spent as much on day care as I did working," she said. "We were paying for a stranger to take care of the kids."

The proposed tax break of $400 is the average amount spent on child care recorded by the government. Kreider said the bill would cost an estimated $60 million.

"I think the amount should be raised," Bernskoetter said. "Even $1,000 break might be more like it, and you would find more moms staying at home."

Although a similar bill proposed last session did not pass, Kreider is optimistic about this proposal's chance for approval.

"I hope it passes this year," he said. "It is a package worth looking at and it is popular among the members."

The tax credit would not be a permanent contract which families would be obligated to fulfill. However, the family would not receive the tax break if any of the requirements were broken.

"If I go back to work it would be part-time when the kids are in school because I would take them to school and pick them up," Bernskoetter said. "They are my pride and joy."