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State votes to stop funding for foster care kids past 21

As lawmakers prepare to take up the state’s health care budget, a House panel is already expecting to save the state about $11-million. But, as Sascha Cordner reports, it’s at the expense of those who depend on the state’s foster care system.

When Republican Representative Matt Hudson of Naples slashed $300 million from the state’s health care budget, his proposal was met with praise from lawmakers and members of the health and human services community. That’s because in his plan, Hudson says he chose to put people over things:

“We were very mindful to protect our Seniors. We had a tremendous amount of opportunities for our Senior citizens in Florida to live in their homes, avoid nursing homes, provide additional assistance to people with brain and spinal cord injuries. We made sure that we were expanding KidCare. We did a number of things that overall are the right things and the people in Florida expect that.”

Hudson’s proposal also differs from the$2 billion  cut that Governor Rick Scott wants to make to Medicaid services. That made many people during Tuesday’s House Health Care Appropriations Committee meeting.

Others were less happy when Hudson cut the funds for a program, that several hundred foster youths depend on called Florida’s Road to Independence. It provides about 1-thousand dollars a month to foster kids ages 18 to 23 who are trying to live on their own with a bit of state help. But, now, Hudson’s bill would change the age eligibility requirement by two years:

“The House Proposed GAA for fiscal year 2012 to 2013 reduces 11.8-million from general revenue funds by changing the maximum age of eligibility from 23 to 21 for independent living services. The bill has an effective date of July 2012, and that is the bill.”

That upset some who had aged out of the foster care system and who depend on that money, like 22-year-old April White. She’s been in and out of 32 foster homes. White says now, the state’s stipend of 12-hundred dollars has helped her accomplish her goals of being a Social Worker. But, without that money, she’s not  so sure that will happen:

I wouldn’t be able to be full-time in school. I would have to be part-time, and without family support, I wouldn’t be able to continue to accomplish my goals and do what I’d like to do in the world, and a lot of the youth, that’s what continues to happen to them, without having any type of support, this check is basically, it’s not an award, it’s not a gift, it’s the best effort that the state could make at being a parent to us.”

Derrick Riggins, a former foster kid himself, says the legislation does not take into account that youth aging out of foster care were failed by the system:

“Twenty-one is not the time to give up on kids who have aged out of the system through no fault on their own. I’m a product of the system, and had some bumps in the road. Had you given up on me, I wouldn’t be the person that I am today. The person, who is fighting for my brothers and sisters in care, a graduate of Florida A and M, and FSU, soon to be law student this summer. Giving up on kids at 21 who are trying to make it is not morally right. You wouldn’t do it to your own kids, so don’t do it when the state has failed and dealt them a bad hand.”

Despite their pleas, Republican Representative Dennis Baxley of Ocala says shelling out cash to foster kids is not helping because there are those who abuse the system.

“A little girl buying a $600-dollar dog with her first check or somebody going out and buying rims for their car. And, without the guidance system, I don’t think we’re establishing a road to independence to hand out cash.”

Baxley, who has two foster kids in addition to three natural sons, says what these kids need is a mentor to help them through these tough times, not cash.  He says he never gave his kids 12-hundred dollars a month, why should the state?

But, Democratic Representative Janet Cruz of Tampa suggested reducing the amount of money these young adults receive:

“When I think of what I cover in my household between housing and when they were in college, housing, a car, insurance, I probably did spend 1-thousand dollars a month or maybe a little bit less than that. So today I say, that maybe an answer would be to reduce the funding, but to take it away? I would urge all of you members, to think about this, if you haven’t walked a mile in the shoes of these children, then we should not judge them.”

Still, the budget plan’s sponsor, Representative Matt Hudson says the state is already doing things to help foster kids in the system so that they can be more independent, so saving the state 11-million dollars is a good idea:

“Because of the pro-active efforts on the front end of this, the elimination of this is only going to affect 657. I would much rather see us work harder on the front-end than on the back end. I think that’s being more visionary, I think it’s pro-active, and frankly, it’s the best things for Florida. And, members I urge your support.”

The measure passed favorably in the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee along a party-line vote 9 to 5. The measure was a proposed bill from that committee, and now heads to the House Appropriations Committee.