Councilmember Gym Announces Legislation to Give Back More than $1 Million Annually to Youth in Foster Care

In Cindy Bass, Derek Green, Helen Gym, Isaiah Thomas, Jamie Gauthier, Kendra Brooks, Kenyatta Johnson by PHL Council

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Legislation would establish individual accounts for youth, end City’s practice of putting federal benefits into General Fund

PHILADELPHIA — Today, Councilmember Helen Gym (At-Large) introduced the Stronger Futures for Foster Youth Act to ensure federal benefits owed to youth in foster care are identified, put in protected accounts, and prohibited from use for basic care needs.

Each year, between 10-20 percent of youth in Philadelphia’s foster care system are entitled to over $1.3 million in federal benefits, including survivors’ and social security disability benefits. Currently, the City of Philadelphia collects these benefits without notice to youth or families, and sweeps them into the city’s General Fund, a controversial practice which occurs widely across the country. Gym’s legislation will expressly prohibit this practice. Under this bill, the City would be required to screen youth for eligibility and assist them in applying for potential benefits, and to establish individual accounts to hold the funds. It also prohibits the funds from being used to cover routine costs of care.

“Today’s legislation rectifies a clear injustice. These benefits belong to youth in our foster care system, and today Philadelphia takes a bold step in leading changes which must follow at the state and federal level,” said Councilmember Helen Gym. “With this legislation, we can ensure that every child in our city’s foster system has every resource owed to them — especially to guarantee the smoothest possible transition as they age into independence.”

In December 2021, an investigation by Resolve Philly revealed nearly $5 million in foster youth’s federal benefits had been collected and put toward the City’s General Fund between 2016 and 2020. This practice has been challenged on grounds including the violation of due process and equal protection. Two other cities, Los Angeles and New York City, have recently taken steps to prohibit this practice — Gym’s legislation would enact among the strongest legislative protections in the country in conserving these federal benefits for foster youth.

“Today’s legislation will undoubtedly change lives and empower these young people with the resources they rightfully deserve,” said Councilmember Helen Gym. “I am grateful to introduce this with the support of all members of the Committee on Children and Youth and in collaboration with our City’s Office of Children and Families, and am committed to working with them and our state partners to take all steps needed to end this practice.”

“We applaud Councilmember Gym’s bill to ensure that social security funding intended for individual youth in foster care is protected for their individual needs,” said Marcía Hopkins, MSW. Senior Manager, Youth Advocacy Program & Policy at Juvenile Law Center. “Especially when we see the challenges and numbers annually of youth aging out of foster care facing housing insecurity, these funds can be the critical difference to youth leading a successful transition to adulthood.”

“While most children involved with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems face heightened obstacles to success and well-being, we know that some children face even larger financial and emotional burdens from their own disability or the death of a parent,” said Frank P. Cervone, Executive Director of the Support Center for Child Advocates. “Social security disability and survivor benefits offer a small bit of hope.  What we can all agree on is a youth coming out of care is going to need that money a lot more tomorrow than the government does today. You’re not just taking from their present when you take that money, you’re taking from their future. Under no circumstances should the government be taking money from kids.”

“It’s completely unacceptable to ask children in foster care to pay for their own care,” said Laurie Dow, Vulnerable Youth Policy Director at Children First. “The fact that the City is pocketing social security payments for foster children is an outrage.  Those funds can, and must, be available to these children to meet needs that cannot be met by their foster care parents or available to them once they are no longer in foster care.  Council should act immediately to end this gross injustice.”

“For a disabled or orphaned young person leaving foster care, access to their benefits can be the difference between housing or homelessness, food security or hunger” said Amy Harfeld, National Policy Director at the Children’s Advocacy Institute. “This bold move in Philadelphia is not only the ethical and caring thing to do, it is a win-win. It’s better for impacted youth, and, ultimately, better for the city. We applaud this effort and hope it will inspire other cities and states to follow suit.”

This legislation is co-sponsored by Councilmembers Cindy Bass (District 8), Kendra Brooks (At-Large), Jamie Gauthier (District 3), Derek Green (At-Large), Kenyatta Johnson (District 2), Isaiah Thomas (At-Large).

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