MARION MINER: Bill would help families after losing a child to stillbirth
May 20, 2021
The Nebraska Legislature’s regular 2021 legislative session is on its last lap.
The Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC) has supported several bills that have already been made into law. We are still following a number of others, including one bill, LB597, 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 suffering. Pope Francis reflected a few years ago that “for 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” (General Audience, June 17, 2015). And it is in these experiences that God and the Church “weep with the tears of a father and mother.”
In the midst of this loss, many families face difficult financial circumstances. A 2013 study concluded that “stillbirth deliveries have not only emotional but economic consequences.” It 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. 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 of Sarpy County was one of the few senators who vocally opposed LB597 and voted against its inclusion in LB432 when it was first considered by the full Legislature. She 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 of Omaha also opposed 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 difficult 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.