Child Welfare: Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits for Children in Foster Care Page: 6 of 37
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government entity as the representative payee of a foster child if the child's custodial
or non-custodial parents, guardians, relatives, stepparents, or a close friend are not
available to serve in that role. As the representative payee, the state (like any other
representative payee) is required to manage the child's benefits and to use the
benefits for the current maintenance (food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and
personal comfort items) of the child. Nearly all states use SSI and/or other Social
Security benefits to pay for foster care. Among 31 states that were able to report on
their use of these benefits in state FY2002, these benefits totaled $95 million.
In recent years, some child welfare advocates have legally challenged the
practice of using foster children's SSI and other Social Security benefits to reimburse
states for the cost of providing their foster care. The most prominent case,
Washington State Department of Social and Health Services v. Guardianship Estate
of Keffeler, reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which, in 2003, upheld this practices
Nonetheless, the Keffeler decision did raise some questions about the federal
government's role in regulating the use of Social Security and SSI payments to fund
foster care, and some advocates remain concerned about this use of the benefits.
This report begins with a discussion of the foster care system and the Social
Security benefits available to eligible children, including those in foster care. It then
describes the role of representative payees and their responsibilities. The report
provides data on the use of Social Security benefits to reimburse states for child
welfare, and includes a discussion of the Keffeler decision. Finally, the report
concludes with proposals supported by some advocates to change the current practice
of using SSI and other Social Security benefits to fund foster care, as well as with a
discussion of state initiatives to screen all foster children for Social Security and to
pass along some benefits to eligible children.
Overview of Foster Care
Foster care is the round-the-clock care of a child outside the child's home and
is typically necessary because of neglect or physical abuse of the child by his or her
parents. Children who are removed from their homes may be placed in foster family
homes, institutions, or group homes by the state child welfare agency.
Federal Requirements Applicable to All Foster Care Children
The federal government has established certain requirements related to state
provision of foster care that are applicable to all children in foster care. These include
that a state has a written case plan detailing, among other things, where the child is
placed and what services are to be provided to ensure that a permanent home is re-
suspect because either 100% of the caseload was reported as recipients of SSI/other Social
Security benefit (Alaska), 0.0% percent of the caseload was reported as eligible (California,
Mississippi, New Hampshire, and Wyoming) or between 0.2% and 0.5% were reported as
recipients (Arizona, Maryland, and New York).
s Washington State Department of Social and Health Services v. Guardianship Estate of
Danny Keffeler, hereafter Keffeler, 537 U.S. 371 (2003).
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Fernandes, Adrienne L.; Szymendera, Scott & Stoltzfus, Emilie. Child Welfare: Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits for Children in Foster Care, report, February 1, 2007; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc820289/m1/6/: accessed October 20, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.