TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The question of cash assistance for former foster children in Florida is dividing the House and Senate.
Currently about 2,600 youngsters between the ages of 18 and 23 receive a monthly check from the state of about $1,100 through the Road-to-Independence Program. It's intended to help them transition out of foster care and help with educational expenses.
Now Republican Rep. Matt Hudson is pushing legislation to lower the maximum age for eligibility from 23 to 21. The change would eliminate the monthly check for 657 people and save the state nearly $12 million.
Hudson says his bill focuses more on helping stabilize foster children when they're between the ages of 13 and 15 so they graduate on time. He believes that will help the state child welfare system spend less money when foster children leave high school.
Hudson concedes foster children may have faced obstacles growing up, but he says it's not the state's responsibility to take care of people when they're 22 or 23 years old.
"There comes a point when you have to be responsible for yourself. Yes, there were certain provisions in your life that were challenging, there were hurdles, there were obstacles that might have been just even cruddy.' But you know what, there comes a point when you say, 'You know what, dog gone it, I'm going to stand up for myself and I'm going to take care of myself and I think this will put a line in the sand to do that.'"
Opponents of the bill say the two years between 21 and 23 are a critical time for these young adults to develop stability, especially since many of them have been hurt by abuse and forced to change homes and schools.
Sen. Nan Rich, who's sponsoring a sprawling restructuring bill for the Road to Independence Program in the Senate, says she's distressed by Hudson's move to lower the program's maximum age to 21.
"I don't see any line in the sand here. Every child is different and you have to meet the needs of the children. Some of these young people turn 18 and they can be on their own. But very few. How many of us today could say our children can be on their own at age 18 and certainly the children who have gone through our child welfare system are not able to do that for the most part."
Sen. Rich's bill, which keeps the maximum age at 23, has already passed unanimously out of the Senate. She says the measure corrects some problems identified in the Road to Independence Program, such as how assistance can be spent, and it aims to create a more stable school experience for foster children.
"Now there are strict eligibility standards. The young people have to be in school, getting certain grades. So I think we've tightened it up significantly and I think this is something I believe that we owe these young people as a result of being in our child welfare system. We are the parents. That's how I look at it and I think we need to move ahead with the 23 and hopefully some day, if this bill works the way we hope it will work, the foster care children will get the kind of education they need in middle and high school and be prepared to graduate on time and then maybe some point down the road, maybe 21 will be an appropriate time to cut off any kind of support. But right now, I don't think we're anywhere near that line."
First Coast News