Opinion: New state tax credit can help former foster kids

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

Tax season offers opportunity to contribute to efforts to help children in need.

It’s a common misconception that when a child is removed from a bad situation at home and placed in foster care, life will always get much better. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I am a former foster child who was placed into the foster care system at the age of 6 due to neglect by my mother. I felt angry, abandoned and had a difficult time connecting with any of the several foster families or group homes assigned to care for me.

When I aged out of the system, life got worse. With no real family, I attempted to attend college. That only lasted for a short time as I wound up in prison – a young man thinking I was dealt a bad hand instead of taking responsibility for my own poor choices.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Now, I am a 33-year-old worker in the culinary industry and my life is much improved. It is because I changed my attitude and met some influential mentors who guided me and helped me make better decisions. Today I am pursuing a dream to open my own catering business with my fiancé here in Atlanta.

Such dreams are virtually impossible for most foster kids who age out of care, are not adopted and have no stable parents to give them love and support. A new Georgia tax credit, however, designed to offer tax relief to Georgia individuals and corporations, is now raising funds to help young adults aging out of foster care – something that certainly would have benefited me.

The Georgia Fostering Success Tax Credit can raise up to $20 million annually for mentors to youth aging out of foster care; stipends for these young people for room and board to attend college or technical school; or monies to cover other costs to get an education among other services.

That was something I sorely lacked when I tried to attend Georgia Perimeter College and then Gordon State College. When I first enrolled in college to pursue a business degree, I had to live in a homeless shelter since I had no money for an apartment or dorm room. The situation just didn’t work, and I was eventually lured into problematic activities that kept me from earning a degree.

It is difficult enough to transition from teenage years to adulthood. But to be a foster kid with no support makes it virtually impossible. It’s exhausting to survive day by day as you have no money, no home and no family to encourage you to make something of yourself. I was lacking genuine love and encouragement so that I could cultivate my culinary skills and talents until I met my mentor.

With tax season upon us, it’s good to know that Georgia taxpayers can now help transform lives like mine and so many other young adults with the new foster care tax credit. It will fund programs that can transform lives and keep young people out of poverty and prison.

Under the new tax credit law which provides a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for donors, single taxpayers may contribute up to $2,500 per year to the foster care tax credit; married couples may contribute up to $5,000 per year to earn the credit on their state taxes. For individuals who file under an LLC or S Corp, they too may contribute up to $5,000 per year while large corporations may donate up to 10 percent annually of their tax liability to earn a credit against their state income taxes.

I am one of the lucky ones. But many of my foster care peers were not so lucky. Several are deceased, homeless, in jail, on drugs or serving life sentences for crimes they committed because they made bad choices or did not have opportunities to pursue an education or career. They are among the statistics that show as much as 97 percent of young men and women who age out of foster care find themselves in chronic poverty or worse.

The Georgia foster care tax credit would have made my life journey much smoother. It certainly can change the lives of many of the 700 others who age out of foster care each year in Georgia. I would encourage Georgia taxpayers to take advantage of this tax-reducing opportunity to give young people like me a chance.

Aaron Sutton is an Atlanta resident who spent 11 years in Georgia’s foster care system.