Children in foster care are some of Maine’s most vulnerable. As of October, approximately 2,500 of Maine’s children remained in state custody, many of whom were living with significant developmental, emotional and medical needs.

In our two House districts alone, multiple foster children have been deprived of survivors benefits that could make a profound difference to the quality and trajectory of their lives. Ultimately, under state law, these young people are made to pay for their own care using the benefits that are due to them as the children of deceased parents.

While the state applies these benefits toward their necessary care, many foster children are unaware that they are even receiving benefits or that the state uses them to help pay for their care. They are unaware of how they might best manage these benefits upon transitioning out of Maine’s foster care system.

This practice affects children from all economic backgrounds. To quote Julian Richter of Family Advocacy of Maine in testimony before the Joint Standing Committee on Health and Human Services, this is “truly reprehensible and morally wrong.” We agree, and we believe it’s time for the Legislature to do something about it.

One constituent of Rep. Sheehan lost both of her parents at a young age and has been receiving Social Security survivors benefits as a result. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services has been collecting the Social Security survivors benefits that this child is entitled to for over a year – totaling tens of thousands of dollars. She is in the process of being adopted into a wonderful family, and as she and her parents look toward her future, they want her to have what she needs to fulfill her dreams. The survivors benefits paid into Social Security by her birth parents prior to their passing could have made a big difference to her future.

To address this issue, Rep. Roeder, whose own adopted son underwent this experience with his survivors benefits, introduced L.D. 2078 this session, which received unanimous approval from the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. The bill would help ensure that the state reserves survivors benefits in trust, rather than spending them on the cost of foster care. Additionally, the bill would provide better financial literacy education and support to young Mainers within the foster care system, which would help them to navigate benefits when they age out of the system.

According to a report published by the Congressional Research Service, young people typically leave foster care at age 18, and those without permanent homes often have difficulty securing housing and income sufficient to shelter and support themselves. Among a sample of young people who had been in foster care at age 17, a quarter reported being homeless and a third reported receiving public benefits, including nutritional assistance or housing assistance, by age 19.

Our foster children are missing out on opportunities to accumulate savings for their future. The development from adolescence into adulthood is one that we all know to be challenging. With the added difficulty of moving out of the foster care system, often without the support or guidance of adults and little to no savings or regular income, we are setting kids up for failure.

We’re calling on the Legislature to pass L.D. 2078. This is the first step toward ensuring that more of Maine’s children in foster care can move toward adulthood with better economic security. The state is responsible for protecting our foster youth. Preserving in trust the funds that children are entitled to, increasing their financial literacy over time, and providing impactful monetary support during a critical time in their lives gives our vulnerable youth a better chance for a brighter future.

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