Hawaii governor seeks pay raises for foster parents

HONOLULU — A legal battle over how much families are paid to care for foster children could cost Hawaii millions of dollars, state officials said.

A 2013 class-action lawsuit accused the state of violating requirements of the federal Child Welfare Act, which mandates that foster-care payments be sufficient to cover the cost of providing for a child’s basic needs, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

The parties involved reached a tentative settlement last year that would have raised the monthly rates to $649 per child for younger children and $776 for children 12 years and older.

The deal expired in June and the case is scheduled for trial in March.

While attorneys representing the foster parents say they’re prepared to litigate the case, Gov. David Ige is requesting $7.13 million to raise the monthly payments.

A spokeswoman for the governor said the funding request is not tied to any proposed settlement of the lawsuit, even though the request is labeled in the governor’s budget request as “Foster Care Board rate settlement increases.”

“The increase requested by the Department of Human Services in the governor’s budget is based upon DHS’s own responsibility to determine an appropriate foster board rate in accordance with the applicable federal and state regulations,” Cindy McMillan, the governor’s spokeswoman, said in an email.

Keopu Reelitz, spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services, said the department “mistakenly included a reference to the settlement” in its budget request. She added that the department conducted a review as required by federal and state laws “and determined that the proposed foster board rate increase is required for DHS to meet the needs of our resource caregivers (formerly foster parents) and our foster youth.”

There are roughly 2,800 children in foster care in Hawaii.

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