Bill would prevent Philly from keeping Social Security payments for foster children
City Councilwoman Helen Gym plans to introduce legislation this week in response to a December Inquirer report that found the city took millions of dollars in Social Security benefits from foster children and reinvested them in the city’s general fund.
Gymnasium legislation would end the practice, forcing the city to save money for the youngsters themselves.
“I was deeply moved reading the story,” Gym said. “There was no doubt that we had to act, which is why we are moving towards legislation and have worked over the past few months for a comprehensive package that puts young people first.
Children may be eligible for Social Security benefits through Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a public benefit for mental or physical disability and financial need; or through Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI), if a parent or guardian made sufficient contributions to the social security system before retiring, becoming disabled or dying. This “survivor’s money”, as it is usually called, is owed as an insurance payment to the children and belongs to them.
However, since young people are legally considered incapable of managing their own money until they reach the age of 18, a “representative beneficiary” is assigned to them to receive and manage these funds. In the case of young people in foster care, government child protection agencies can step in to become that fund manager.
Between fiscal years 2016 and 2020, the city took nearly $5 million in Social Security benefits due to hundreds of foster children, according to city documents obtained by Resolve Philly and The Inquirer via a right to know request. The city transferred the money to its general fund, records also showed, apparently in a bid to offset the cost of room, board and other services.
Federal law requires agencies to provide these services without passing the cost on to children, and those without such funds are not required to reimburse agencies for their expenses.
In a typical year, DHS collected about $1.3 million in benefits from about 380 foster youth. Records requests also showed that the city has no process in place to notify the children or their legal representatives that the money is being taken, preventing them from securing the money themselves.
READ MORE: READ MORE: Philly took $5 million in Social Security payments for foster kids without telling them
Vaughn Jackson, a longtime boxing trainer in Philadelphia, discovered late last year that two boys he is the legal guardian of were losing benefits when he was denied assistance program funds. additional nutrition. “They told me I was getting too much money,” he said. “But I didn’t get any money, and neither did the children.”
With the help of attorneys from Community Legal Services, Jackson discovered that the money paid on behalf of the children was actually being sent to DHS. In fact, the agency had been collecting survivor payments owed to boys from a former adoptive parent for at least three years, including nine months after Jackson became their legal guardian.
“I feel like justice has been served,” Jackson said of Gym’s proposal. “It is time for people to recognize: these orphans, they are alone there. They are scared and there is enough trauma in their lives. They might hope to have something for themselves.
An NPR/Marshall Project survey and figures collected by the research organization Child Trends show that in at least 49 states, child welfare agencies are seizing children’s Social Security benefits to pay their own families for hospitality, which grossed at least $165 million in 2018 alone, for example. The practice has also become the subject of growing calls for reform.
Courts in Maryland and Alaska have ruled that agencies violate the due process rights of adoptive children when they take their benefits without notifying themselves or their legal representatives. Maryland then enacted a law that, among other things, requires youths in foster care, or their attorneys, to receive notice, allowing them to claim the money. The law also calls for increasing amounts of their Social Security money to be set aside for them as they approach age 18. The New York Children’s Services Administration is voluntarily ending this practice, opting to save funds for the young people to whom the money belongs.
Gym’s bill would require savings accounts to be opened for children receiving Social Security benefits. It also prohibits the city from using youth benefits to cover the costs of their care. The bill would allow Philadelphia, in consultation with the child and their attorney, to potentially use the money for services not covered by foster care funding or health insurance, such as tutoring , disability aids or a car.
Gym said his office has been working “so far, in conjunction with DHS, and we’ve been told they’re ready to end the practice, and we’re working to find a good solution.”
A DHS spokesperson responded by email, “We are currently exploring various ways to make improvements to the practice that will better serve children and youth, both while in care and when they come out of DHS custody. We look forward to working with Councilmember Gym, our colleagues at the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, the Social Security Administration, and other community stakeholders as we work through the complicated process to resolve this issue.
The legislation could make thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars available to young people as they leave or age in foster care, a critical period in the transition to adulthood. Jackson’s venues, for example, each received a check for more than $9,000 to cover the time they were not supported by DHS.
The gym’s numbers find significant support among at least some board members who have expressed concern or outrage.
City Council Member Cindy Bass declared her desire to hold hearings into the DHS practice, supported by Council Member Isaiah Thomas.
“I absolutely support the hearings,” Thomas said. “This report was disturbing and disappointing, and we will have to consider how we as a legislative body can resolve it.”
“We need to end this practice first,” said council member Jamie Gauthier, who found The Inquirer’s report “shocking” and “disturbing.”
“When we talk about our nation’s broken social safety net, that’s what we mean,” said At-Large Board member Kendra Brooks. “Social Security payments should go into the pockets of foster children and their families who need the money, not into the state-funded institutions designed to serve them. We must stop treating the poor, the working class and the disabled as if they cannot take care of themselves.
“This is another example of why we need to create a more efficient and humane system,” said councilor Maria Quiñones-Sánchez. “We have children who are suffering, who need this money and to whom it belongs. Why would we keep it and not give it to them?
While many children leave foster care and go on to lead successful lives, former foster children also face greatly increased risks of becoming homeless, substance abuse, increased care needs health and unemployment.
Marcus Jarvis spent many years in the city’s foster care system and fits the model of someone who could have received Social Security benefits that were swept away from him and into the city’s coffers after the death of his wife. Foster mother.
“Dude,” he said. A little money” would have meant so much. I couldn’t keep up with school because I needed money just to keep a roof over my head.
Now 30, Jarvis taught himself digital video production and graphic design and works for the Juvenile Law Center, a nonprofit that fights for the rights of young people. “It was such a struggle,” he said, “for so long. I could have used that money just to get some stability to get some kind of college degree. … That would have changed everything.