Monday, February 21, 2011
Breast-feeding tax deductions stirring debate
Do breast pumps have political leanings?
A recent decision by the Internal Revenue Service to recognize breast pumps and breast-feeding supplies as tax-deductible medical expenses has led some to question if breast-feeding has become part of a political agenda.
After Michelle Obama announced just before the IRS ruling that she would support breast-feeding as part of her campaign against child obesity, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., pegged the first lady's position as "hard left" and suggested she was creating a "nanny state."
Sarah Palin made a similar jab at Ms. Obama in a speech Thursday, media outlets reported.
"No wonder Michelle Obama is telling everybody, 'You'd better breast-feed your baby,' " Ms. Palin said. "Yeah, you'd better, because the price of milk is so high right now."
Previously, the IRS did not classify breast-feeding supplies as tax-deductible because it viewed them as nutritional benefits instead of medical care expenses. Under the new ruling, nursing mothers can write off breast-feeding equipment if they have flexible spending accounts or if their total medical expenses exceed 7.5 percent of their adjusted gross income.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, which has pushed the IRS for years to classify breast-feeding supplies as medical expenses, strongly supports the ruling, said Richard Schanler, chair of the AAP's breast-feeding section.
"All mothers should have the ability to be able to provide milk for their babies," Dr. Schanler said. "There are tremendous benefits to breast-feeding."
Last month, U.S. Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin issued a "Call to Action to Support Breast-feeding," stating that breast-feeding can protect babies from infections and illnesses, including pneumonia and diarrhea. Breast-fed babies are also less likely to develop asthma and to become obese, the report said.
The Allegheny County Health Department annually awards businesses and public places for accommodating nursing mothers. Department spokesman Guillermo Cole said the new tax ruling will financially benefit mothers who pay out of pocket for breast-feeding supplies.
"I don't know that it's going to cause a dramatic spike in the breast-feeding rate, but it's certainly helpful," Mr. Cole said. "It recognizes that this is an expenditure made that has a positive effect for the health of our community."
Mr. Cole said the department does not consider breast-feeding a political issue.
"I don't think there should be any partisanship at all in public health," Mr. Cole said. "There's no liberal or conservative way to do breast-feeding, and it benefits all, regardless of political persuasion."
Dr. Schanler said the AAP supports breast-feeding because of its medical benefits and not as part of a political agenda. He said it was "sad" that Ms. Palin and Ms. Bachmann were using breast-feeding for political leverage.
"These women could afford breast pumps, and they're mocking people that can't," Dr. Schanler said. "The government isn't legislating that women breast-feed, they're just making it easier, like they've made it easier to get antibiotics for all children."
Greenfield mother Laura McCarthy said she was glad to see Ms. Obama and the IRS supporting breast-feeding.
"I think anything that would be supporting mothers giving children the healthiest food available, that costs nothing, needs anything we should be doing to help," Ms. McCarthy said. "It doesn't seem like there's anything political about feeding your baby healthy food."
Ann Marie Miller, a mother in North Strabane, said she disagreed with the IRS ruling because she views breast-feeding as a choice and breast pumps as a luxury.
Ms. Miller, 29, said that although she is not opposed to breast-feeding, she chose not to breast-feed her children because she was nervous about becoming a mother. Government support of breast-feeding creates pressure on mothers, she said.
"There is a ton of pressure to breast-feed," she said. "I don't think it's fair or right to pressure moms to breast-feed, and they deserve to make the choice that's best for them and their families."
Classifying breast-feeding equipment as a medical expense is a slippery slope, Ms. Miller said.
"You could have same argument for car seats," Ms. Miller said. "Where's the line?"
Posted by DL at 2:01 AM