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Michigan lawmakers aim to protect benefits for foster children

Michigan lawmakers aim to protect benefits for foster children
Michigan lawmakers aim to protect benefits for foster children 03:15

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (CBS DETROIT) – Some Michigan lawmakers want to stop the practice of taking money away from foster kids.

Some children qualify for social security checks because they have a disability or have lost a parent when they are placed in foster care; the Department of Health and Human Services sometimes cashes those checks on their behalf to reimburse the state for the cost of foster care that other children receive for free.

Michigan is set to receive $3.6 million from this practice in this upcoming fiscal year, of which about $500,000 will go to local governments. 

Andres Gutierrez/CBS Detroit

If Senate Bill 872, introduced by State Senator Jeff Irwin, passes, that money will be replaced by the general fund.

"It's really not good enough to say, let's just stop doing this. I think the previous legislation that's been introduced said, let's just stop seizing these assets. But we actually had to figure out what are we going to do with the assets. And so what our legislation calls for is putting these funds into ABLE accounts. These are specific trust accounts that the state developed, you know, for folks in these kinds of situations, folks who are disabled, others, and this would allow them to keep these funds in these ABLE accounts; that way, the funds are secure and monitored," said Irwin, who represents Michigan's 15th District.

Justin Kasieta entered the foster care system at age 15 after his father died of cancer.

"You kind of never knew where you'd be next. So it was kind of a thing where you never knew if you'd have to meet new teachers, new friends, and new fellow students. And it made it difficult to be at home," Kasieta said. 

Kasieta and his four siblings ended up living in four different foster homes.

Due to his father's passing, Kasieta and his siblings were entitled to social security benefits. However, Michigan took those funds, leaving the children with little financial support when they aged out of the system.

"Over $18,000 was taken from me from the time I entered foster care to the time I aged out, and you know, that money could have been used for things like, you know, maybe getting your first car, getting your first apartment, helping to afford a college education, or getting your first job," Kasieta said.

Kasieta is now advocating for legislation ensuring these funds directly support foster kids.

"From many of the kids that I experienced foster care with, they've ended up, you know, struggling from addiction, homeless or worse," Kasieta said. "These are amongst the most vulnerable children in our entire society. So I think that putting those funds towards making them self-sufficient, so they won't end up becoming dependent on taxpayer assistance, which would, which could actually cost more money in the long run, you know, than just giving kids the money that was intended for them."

On Wednesday, the U of M grad will appear in front of the Michigan Senate Committee on Housing and Human Services to share his story and help Senate Bill 872 pass so that other foster kids can transition out of the system with some financial stability.

"Most people don't know that this is happening, and therefore it continues to happen. And I think Michigan has a rare opportunity to fix incredible injustice," Kasieta said. 

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