Carmel will help its employees adopt
City's offer of $5,000 toward adoption costs is unusual for municipalities, advocates say
CARMEL, Ind. -- A city that prides itself on being a trendsetter soon will offer a benefit rare among public employers: help in paying for adoptions.
Carmel's Board of Public Works this week approved a plan to offer each of its 500 city employees up to $5,000 in adoption costs per child, with a $10,000 maximum per employee.
The program that begins Jan. 1 would allow employees who adopted this year to be compensated $2,500 per child. That amount will be taxable, while the future benefits will not be.
Adoption advocates and experts agree that Carmel's new policy will make the affluent suburb one of the few cities in the nation to offer such benefits.
Meg Sterchi is executive director of Carmel-based Adoptions of Indiana, which helps families throughout the state prepare for adoption. She said Carmel is the first government employer she's heard of that helps employees pay for adoption.
"Within Indiana, they're on the leading edge," Sterchi said. "Most municipalities don't have the income to be able to offer that."
Experts say average adoption costs range from as little as $1,000 in the United States to up to $40,000 for some international adoptions.
Carmel's benefit would cover expenses such as agency and placement fees, court costs and medical expenses for the birth mother and child. The board on Wednesday approved a resolution to start the program.
Barbara Lamb, the city's director of human resources, said the adoption assistance dollars would come from money in the city's employee health-care account. Carmel runs its own health insurance program with a third-party administrator.
City funds cover 85 percent of that account, which stands at more than $6 million in revenue. Employees pay the remaining 15 percent.
Lamb said her department has kicked around the idea for the initiative for the past several years. She said at least three employees adopted children this year and estimated that about five employees will take advantage of the program each year.
"We're always looking for things we can do in our never-ending quest to make our benefits package as attractive as possible," Lamb said.
But some question whether city employees should receive the help from taxpayer dollars.
Carmel Clerk-Treasurer Diana Cordray, who adopted a child 25 years ago, said providing help with adoption is fitting in the private sector. But she doesn't think the benefit should come at the public's expense.
"I don't think that's local government's purpose," Cordray said.
Carmel City Councilman Eric Seidensticker said he doesn't view adoption as an insurance issue -- especially not one that should come from city funds.
"I feel for the people who can't have children, but insurance is designed to prevent catastrophic loss," Seidensticker said. "Just because other companies (provide the benefit) doesn't mean it's fiscally responsible."
As of 2006, 45 percent of employers offered adoption benefits, according to a survey of 916 employers sponsored by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, a nonprofit that pushes to increase the number of adoptions nationwide.
A dozen of those surveyed were in the government sector.
Lamb said that to her knowledge, no other cities in Hamilton County offer such a benefit.
Employees of the Indianapolis city-county government's human resources division declined Wednesday to say whether the capital city offers such a benefit. City offices were closed Thursday and Friday for the Thanksgiving holiday.
In the private sector, two Indianapolis companies rank among the Dave Thomas Foundation's list of top 100 adoption-friendly workplaces. Eli Lilly is 14th, offering $10,000 in financial assistance and a week of paid leave for employees who adopt. Duke Realty Corp. ranks 19th with $7,500 and two weeks of paid leave.
Rhode Island-based Citizens Financial Group, which tops the list, offers close to $21,000 per adoption and one week of paid leave.
Gloria Hochman, communications director for the adoption advocacy group the National Adoption Center, said offering adoption assistance benefits is a smart move for employers.
Because not many employees take advantage of the option, it provides a relatively low-cost way of making the company a more attractive place to work.
Hochman said the bureaucracy involved with municipal employers adding adoption benefits makes for a small number of cities that offer them.
But she expects that number will grow.
"As adoption becomes more in the news, it's inevitable," Hochman said. "More companies and municipal governments will become aware of the need for these benefits."