New York, NY – Child welfare officials in New York City say they will stop collecting Social Security checks from children in foster care. Previously, money from the checks went towards covering the costs of caring for the children. “This is their money and they deserve to use it as they see fit,” Jess Dannhauser, commissioner of New York City child protection agency Administration for Children’s Services, told NPR.
Children in foster care are entitled to Social Security benefits if they are themselves disabled, have a parent who is disabled, or had a parent who passed away. About 10 to 20 percent of children in the foster care system are eligible.
The Social Security checks will now go into private savings accounts for each child. The children will be able to access these funds when they are reunited with their family, fostered into a new family or grow out of the system between the ages of 18-24. In the past, some agencies in New York City have had staff or hired outside sources to take the checks and cash them without notifying the child in foster care or the family. They were able to justify this behavior by giving a list of care they provide for the children.
These practices are not confined to New York City. There are 49 other states including the District of Columbia, who also collect the benefit checks. According to the Government Accountability Office, child welfare agencies were the “representative payee” for 81% of the foster children receiving Social Security benefits in states that reported data.
Starting this summer, Dannhauser plans to change the policy right away so the checks will immediately go into individual savings accounts. The agency also plans to teach the children how to take care of their money and save it. Dannhauser says they’ll teach the children how to pay for an apartment or living space, apply for college or a technical school, and address other needs that will set them up for success. “Those resources can mean the difference between a really rocky start to that transition or one that they really have a foundation to launch from,” he said to NPR.
For orphaned children, the benefit checks that will be put aside in an account could equal out to thousands of dollars a year. For a child who is disabled or has a parent who is, they will get up to two thousand dollars, under the federal “asset limit”.
These savings accounts will be a huge help to children in the system as they are often facing bad odds when they leave. Unfortunately, they are much more likely to have higher rates of unemployment, homelessness and time in jail or prison. Only about 3 to 4 percent of foster children graduate college.
“What New York City is doing is courageous,” Amy Harfeld, national policy director for the Children’s Advocacy Institute told NPR. “Because they’ve basically said: We have been doing this thing that is unethical and that doesn’t serve the kids that we are the legal parents of. And so even though we’ve become accustomed to taking this money, it’s not the right thing to do. And we’re going to stop doing it.”
New York’s change in policy is already influencing policies in Nebraska, Texas, Minnesota and Illinois. The four states are currently in legislation to instill their own policies on preventing foster children from losing their SS benefits.