Bill would prevent Philly from keeping social security payments intended for foster children
Bill would prevent Philly from keeping social security payments intended for foster children

Bill would prevent Philly from keeping social security payments intended for foster children

City Councilor Helen Gym plans to introduce legislation this week in response to a December report that found the city has taken millions of dollars in social benefits belonging to children in foster care and plowing them back into the city’s ordinary fund.

The gymnasium’s legislation would end the practice, and require the city to save the money for the young people themselves.

“I was deeply saddened to read the story,” Gym said. “There was no doubt that we had to act, and that’s why we’re moving towards legislation and have been working over the last many months for a complete 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 needs; or through old-age, survivors’ and disability insurance (OASDI), if a parent or guardian has paid enough into the social security system before retiring, becoming disabled or dying. These “survivors’ money, as it is usually called, are owed to children as an insurance payment and belong to them.

However, because young people are legally considered incapable of managing their own money before the age of 18, they are assigned a “representative payee” to receive and administer these funds. In the case of young people in foster families, state child welfare authorities can step in to become the money manager.

Between fiscal 2016 and 2020, the city received nearly $ 5 million in social security benefits due to hundreds of children in foster care, according to city documents obtained by Resolve Philly and The Inquirer through a Right-to-Know request. The city transferred the money to its regular fund, the records also showed, apparently for the purpose of compensating itself for the cost of room, board and other services.

Federal law requires agencies to provide these services without transferring the cost to the children, and those who do not have such funds are not required to reimburse their expenses.

In a typical year, DHS received about $ 1.3 million in benefits from about 380 young people in foster care. Registration requests also showed that the city has no process in place to notify 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 foster child social security payments without telling them

Vaughn Jackson, a longtime boxing coach in Philadelphia, discovered late last year that two boys for whom he serves as guardians lost benefits when he was denied funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. “They told me I was receiving too much money,” he said. “But I received no money, and neither were the children.”

With the help of attorneys at Community Legal Services, Jackson discovered that the money paid out in the children’s name was actually being sent to DHS. In fact, the agency had been collecting survivor payments to the boys from a former adoptive parent for at least three years, including for nine months after Jackson had become their legal guardian.

“I feel like justice is being served,” Jackson said of Gym’s proposal. “It’s time for people to recognize: These orphans, they’re out there alone. They’re scared, and there’s enough trauma in their lives. They could look forward to having something for themselves.”

An NPR / Marshall Project Study and figures collected by the research organization Child Trends show that in at least 49 states, child welfare agencies collect social security benefits from children to pay for their own foster family, for example, who will receive at least $ 165 million in 2018 alone. This practice has also been the subject of increasing demands for reform.

Courts in Maryland and Alaska have ruled that agencies violated the rights of foster children when they took their benefits without informing them or their legal representatives. Maryland later passed a law mandating, among other things, that nursing children or their attorneys receive notice, allowing them to claim the money. The law also requires that increasing amounts of their social security money be set aside for them as they approach 18 years of age. New York’s Child Services Administration discontinues voluntary practice and chooses to save funds for the individual young people to whom the money belongs.

The high school’s bill would require the opening of savings accounts for children receiving social benefits. It also prohibits the city from using any of the young people’s services to cover the cost of their care. The bill would allow Philadelphia, in consultation with the child and their attorney, to potentially spend some money on services not covered by care funding or health insurance, such as additional counseling, disability aids or a car.

Gym said her office is working “so far in partnership with DHS and we have been told they are open to completing the practice and we are working on finding a good solution.”

A spokesman for DHS responded via email: “We are currently exploring various ways to make improvements in practices that will better serve children and young people, both while in care and when leaving DHS custody. We look forward to working with the Councilmember Gym, our colleagues at the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, the Social Security Administration, and other community stakeholders as we work through the complex process of resolving this issue. “

Legislation can make thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars available to young people as they leave or grow old out of the foster family, a critical period in the transition to adulthood. Jackson’s departments received e.g. each a check for more than $ 9,000 to cover the period during which they were outside DHS’s care.

The gym turns out to find significant support among at least some council members who expressed concern or outrage.

City Councilor Cindy Bass has expressed her desire to hold hearings on DHS’s practice, seconded by Councilor Isaiah Thomas.

“I absolutely support hearings,” Thomas said. “This report was disturbing and disappointing and we will have to look at how we as a legislature can address it.”

“We need to stop this practice first,” said Councilman Jamie Gauthier, who found The Inquirer report “shocking” and “disturbing.”

“When we talk about our country’s shattered social safety net, that’s what we mean,” said At-Large Council member Kendra Brooks. “Social security payments should go into the pockets of children in foster families and their families who need this money, not the publicly funded institutions designed to serve them. We need to stop treating poor people, working class people and people with disability as if they could not 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 suffering children who need this money and who they belong to. Why should we keep it and not give it to them?”

While many children leave the foster family and continue to live a successful life, foster care alumni also face greatly increased risks of experiencing homelessness, substance abuse, increased health needs, and unemployment.

Marcus Jarvis spent many years in the city’s care system, fitting the pattern of someone who could have received social benefits who was swept away from him and into the city’s coffers after the death of his adoptive mother.

“Man,” he said. Some cash “would have meant so much. I could not keep up with school because I needed money just to have a roof over my head.”

Now 30 years old, Jarvis taught himself digital video production and graphic design and works for the Juvenile Law Center, a nonprofit organization that fights for youth rights. “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. … It would have changed everything.”

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March 15, 2022

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