When Sue and Jim Orban, a Gaithersburg couple, adopted their first child in 1980, raising $4,000 to pay the adoption costs meant "asking relatives to give cash instead of other presents for Christmas." It also required Sue to take on four part-time jobs as a baby sitter, a sales clerk, a recreational supervisor and house cleaner, while Jim worked his regular hours as a computer programmer for Fairchild Industries Inc. in Germantown.

"At times it just felt crazy," Sue Orban said. "But that's the price we had to pay to make ends meet. It was the best money for short-term work."

Four years later, after she gave birth to a child, they adopted a Filipino boy. This time paying the bills was less arduous. Although the price to adopt their son Michael ran $5,500, part of the cost was absorbed through a benefits policy provided by Jim Orban's new employer, and Sue stayed at home to take care of the children.

International Business Machines Corp., where Orban has been a computer analyst since 1981, pays employes up to $1,750 toward adoption costs.

According to the National Committee for Adoptions, 40 major United States firms, or three times the number since 1980, pay $150 to $2,500 in expenses incurred for agency placement fees, court costs and legal fees, temporary foster child care and transportation for the adopted child.

The list includes such giants as Honeywell Inc., Procter & Gamble Co., Time Inc. and Bank of America.

In addition, more than 100 firms, such as Acacia Group Insurance Co. of Washington, allow employes to use accrued leave time, which in some cases includes sick leave, to acclimate their newly adopted child to unfamiliar surroundings.

The changes have extended even to state government in Maryland, which last year enacted a law allowing any employe to use up to 30 days of accrued sick leave to spend with a newly adopted child. The sponsor of the bill, Del. Virginia M. Thomas (D-Howard), said it is the only one of its kind in the country.

Federal employes are not entitled to adoption benefits, according to Jim Ludwig of the Office of Personnel Management, and neither are Virginia state workers or District of Columbia employes.

Edward Rider, an archivist at Procter & Gamble of Cincinnati, said the five months that the company allowed him to take off from work without pay when he and his wife received their 4-week-old daughter were "invaluable."

Edward and Barbara Rider had been waiting three years before a local agency notified them that a teen-aged mother was giving up her child for adoption. "We found out a few days before having to bring [Anne] home," Edward Rider said. "Although we were expecting a child at some point, it's not like planning for a natural birth."

William Pierce, president of the National Committee for Adoptions, said, "The basic premise of adoption benefits is a matter of equity. Most people who adopt children do not enjoy the same privileges as those who are biological parents."

Officials of companies that have instituted these payments agree that parents who adopt should not be burdened with costs that natural parents escape through major medical insurance, which typically absorbs up to 80 percent of their costs.

Doctor fees and hospitalization for a natural birth usually amount to about $4,000, industry spokesmen say, whereas normal agency adoption expenses range from $2,000 to $10,000, depending on the type of services rendered.

These officials assert that the expanded coverage marks their growing commitment to a diverse work force, although they acknowledge that the policy makes for good public relations at minimal cost because few of their employes adopt children and claim the benefit.

"Companies are realizing that there is not such a distance between your work and family life," said Linda Ulrey, a public relations assistant at Procter & Gamble. "They've got to make it easier for the two to work in tandem."

Procter & Gamble in 1982 designed a package that provides up to $1,000 for adoption costs and allows employes time off from work until their child is 6 months old. "If the child is older than 6 months when he or she is adopted, we'll usually make special exceptions," Ulrey said.

"Obviously we're only providing maybe a half the cost to the family," said Emily Karakashian, a senior benefits analyst at Bank of America, which introduced cash payments of $2,000 to employes in 1983. "The philosophy is to equalize the benefits for people who choose other options [than natural birth]. From our point of view it's a great benefit, because the cost is negligible," Karakashian said.

Karakashian noted that in two years, about 30 employes have used the adoption benefit, which requires a $250 deductible.

At IBM, which in 1972 was one of the first Fortune 500 firms to enact the program, 4,500 employes have been granted the $1,750 benefit. The company employs 394,930 people in the United States.

One criticism of the cash benefit programs is that the money is not always tax-deductible, thereby reducing the amount parents receive by up to 25 percent.

The Orbans, for example, said their $1,750 benefit from IBM "amounted to around $1,300" once taxes were deducted. However other companies, such as Acacia, Procter & Gamble, and Honeywell, shoulder the tax burden.

A tax bill passed by Congress in 1981 provided an exemption of up to $1,500 for the adoption of a "special needs" child, but no exemptions were made for other children. "Special needs" refers to children 5 years or older, handicapped children and sibling sets.

This year a bill has been introduced by Sens. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Jeremiah Denton (R-Ala.) that would permit deductions for any adopted child.