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Foster Kids Footing The Bill For Their Own Services, But Some Say They Should Not Have To

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Some foster children are footing the bill for their own care, and one lawmaker says it is time for the practice to stop. Even children dealt the toughest hand in life are often owed money from parents whose benefits were not yet payed out.

CBS 2 has learned the state of Illinois spends millions to find those dollars to defray the cost to taxpayers, and while it may help the bottom line, some are saying it's wrong.

In the same way you don't pay the fire department to put out the flames of your home, children in foster care are not asked to foot the bill for their care.

But many of them do foot that bill. And many are unaware of it.

"Federal and state law requires the state agencies to both provide foster care services and pay for those foster care services," said law professor and author Daniel Hatcher.

In his book "The Poverty Industry: The Exploitation of America's Most Vulnerable Citizens," law Hatcher outlines how it works. Each year several thousand Illinois foster children are owed money through benefits, for disabilities or monies owed deceased parents from places like social security or veterans benefits. Last year it totaled over $14.2 million.

Who manages it when their family is out of the picture? Of those children, 84% had the money managed by the state.

In 2018 the state used $13 million to reimburse itself for things like food, clothing and medical care.

"The state already has a responsibility to provide those things, and it does not have to take this money," said Congressman Danny Davis.

Davis is sponsoring legislation to keep that money to the side for when children leave the system.

"It would be forced to go into a savings account," he said. "It's not good enough to say it's used for them."

The state pays private vendors millions -- $4.8 million over five years to be exact -- to locate these dollars.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, CBS 2 obtained contracts revealing the Department of Children and Family Services "has aggressively pursued SSI benefits for children in foster care," and "in the past 15 years, the Department has submitted over 20,000 SSI applications..."

"This isn't money that's intended as a state revenue stream," said Hatcher.

"Don't take it from these foster children. It's been a longstanding practice, doesn't mean that it's the correct practice," said Davis.

More than two dozen states do the same thing. DCFS said benefits are never used for administrative costs.

Many of these youth are unaware they qualify for these benefits until they tell them.

And they are looking at policies to allow for saving to prepare the youth for when they age out of state services.

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