Foster parents to Legislature: Use special session to pay out $9M settlement

Foster parents to Legislature: Use special session to pay out $9M settlement

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - During next week's special session, some foster parents want lawmakers to take up a bid to raise reimbursement rates for families in the foster care system.

Raynette and Eddie Ah Chong have five children of their own. But over the last 25 years, they've also been foster parents to 108 kids.

"When we found that there were children who needed care, my husband asked me if I wanted to do this. We looked into it and we became a foster home," she said.

Ah Chong said they paid for a lot of the expenses to care for the children who passed through their home because state reimbursements weren't enough. A few years ago, the Ah Chong's and other foster parents sued the state to increase the reimbursement rate.

It had remained the same from 1990, until a small increase in 2014.

"As time goes on the cost of living rises," Ah Chong said.

In a settlement, the state agreed to pay $9 million to the families and their attorneys and raise the rates. But complaining the legal fees were excessive, state lawmakers didn't appropriate the money.

"Everyone agrees that this is a slam dunk. There's no rational basis that the legislature has to hold this settlement up any longer," said Victor Geminiani, attorney with the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice.

Geminiani and foster parents are hoping state lawmakers appropriate the funds at next week's special session.

But House Speaker Scott Saiki said since the focus is on rail "it's unlikely the Legislature will be able to consider a proposed foster parent settlement." He said lawmakers believe terms of the settlement are still being hammered out.

But Geminiani said the settlement was supported by Gov. David Ige, the Department of Human Services, and the state attorney general. He said if lawmakers ignore it next week, he'll take the issue back to court.

"This case had been litigated three years to try to get some resolution that made sense. The state was clearly in violation of federal law," he said.

"When the children go into foster care, it's a time of need, something happened in their life," Ah Chong said.

She feels until reimbursements are reasonable, fewer families will get involved in foster care because they can't afford it.

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