State to pay out $85M to settle foster parent lawsuit

State to pay out $85M to settle foster parent lawsuit
Published: Aug. 29, 2016 at 9:15 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 29, 2016 at 10:41 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state will pay out an additional $85 million over the next 10 years to foster parents as part of a settlement agreement announced Monday.

The settlement, which is subject to legislative approval, was brought by foster parents who argued the state's foster care payments were woefully inadequate and have contributed to a shortage of foster parents.

Kahaluu foster parents Raynette and Edward Ah Chong brought the lawsuit after struggling to cover costs for their foster kids for years.

The state kept the stipend it paid for Hawaii's 6,000 foster children the same from 1990 to 2014, even as the local cost of living has nearly doubled.

"If I gave you $17.63 a day can you live with that?" asked Raynette Ah Chong. "Three meals a day, shelter, clothing, all your living expenses."

She added, "I've recruited many, many (foster parents) and they did it for a few months and after they gave up. Financially they couldn't do it."

In the deal, the state will pay between $649 and $776 a month per child, depending on the child's age. Adding clothing allowance increases, the payments could go as high as $1,026.

The increases in payments amount to more than $8.5 million each year in support for foster care kids, on top of what they would have already received.

Additionally, foster parents who served from July 2013 to June 2014 will get $35 per month retroactively, prorated to the actual days of care they provided.

While the additional support sounds like a lot of money, advocates say it still doesn't keep up with the cost of inflation.

"The reimbursements that the state provided for foster parents ... remained the same for over 24 years even as inflation and the Hawaii cost of living soared," said Claire Wong Black, attorney for the Ah Chongs.

Meanwhile, the state says the settlement ends years of litigation and will provide foster children with more resources and healthy homes.

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