If there’s one California politician who has consistently run as a child welfare advocate, it is Gov. Gavin Newsom, father of four.
So if there’s one bill he should not have vetoed this fall, it was the lone proposed law that actually promised to put money into the hands of youngsters who need it most: foster children.
And yet, there was Newsom’s Oct. 8 veto message: “I am returning Assembly Bill 1512 without my signature…”
Some background here: California has between 55,000 and 60,000 children in foster care at any given time. Many are disabled youths from poor families. Some have seen one or both parents die. Others have been placed there because parents cannot cope with them for any of a host of possible reasons.
About 20% of foster kids get monthly payments (ranging from $1,000 to about $2,400, depending on the child’s financial background) under the federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.
But across the nation, including in California, some counties take all or part of the money from those kids and use it to refund themselves for payments they make to foster parents and other expenses of caring for foster kids.
So, unlike almost all non-foster kids, youngsters who have suffered the most tragedies and other difficulties often are actually paying for their own support. This can come at the expense of their future.
Newsom had a chance to correct this by signing AB 1512, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Isaac Bryan of Culver City. The measure would have prevented California counties from taking benefits like SSI payments away from orphaned or disabled children to cover costs of their foster care.
But Newsom turned into a bean-counting bureaucrat in considering this potential law. He said he vetoed it because the question did not come up during last summer’s negotiations on the state budget. Uh-huh.
As if a $19 million expense (the approximate cost of letting the kids keep their own cash) would be anything more than the proverbial drop in the bucket of a $311 billion state budget. Letting kids keep their cash for future use would add a small fraction of 1% to that budget.
Said Newsom, “With our state facing continuing economic risk…it is important to remain disciplined when considering bills with significant fiscal implications, such as this measure.”
Less than one-tenth of 1% is significant?
By contrast, the money that might pile up in bank accounts held for foster kids might be very significant to them once their foster care eligibility ends when they turn 18.
No foster child has anything more than a high school education when that time arrives. High-paying jobs in technology and management will never be open to most of them unless they are especially determined and somehow find scholarship money, loans or part-time employment allowing them to attend college, which can increase earning power exponentially.
But if foster kids have SSI money awaiting them at age 18, things can be different. Those funds can add up to tens of thousands of dollars per child, enough for modest living expenses while attending community colleges and later transferring to four-year schools. It’s also money that can prevent former foster kids from becoming homeless.
Newsom has essentially foreclosed these possibilities for many fostered youngsters for at least another year.
It’s not as if California would have been the first to tell counties to keep hands off that money. States like Arizona, New Mexico and Oregon did that soon after confiscations were exposed in a 2021 investigation by NPR and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Marshall Project.
Meanwhile, two of California’s biggest counties, San Diego and Los Angeles, backed AB 1512.
Said Bryan, if counties don’t take money, “it is not lost revenue for them; this is stolen money to begin with.”
The fact that Newsom didn’t recognize both this and the boost the money might give aged-out foster children boggles the mind.
The bottom line: If ever a vetoed bill deserved a rerun, it is AB 1512, which appears certain to be reintroduced after the Legislature reconvenes in December.
Maybe if this bill reaches his desk again, Newsom will live up to his child advocacy rhetoric.
Email Thomas Elias at [email protected].