FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Rick Glassman
DLC Report Exposes Practice of Diverting Millions Annually of SSA Benefits from Vulnerable Foster Youth in Massachusetts
Investigation reveals systemic issues in DCF’s allocation of Social Security benefits
BOSTON, MA (September 26, 2023): In a comprehensive report released today, Disability Law Center, Inc. (DLC), sheds light on a concerning practice within the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) that impacts some of the state’s most vulnerable children and young adults. The report, based on extensive research and data analysis, highlights the diversion of millions of dollars in Social Security Administration (SSA) benefits from children in foster care to the state’s General Fund, potentially robbing these already disadvantaged young adults of a brighter future.
The report can be found below.
The report comes immediately ahead of a hearing today of the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities on legislation (H.157 / S.65) to end this practice and protect the benefits of youth in foster care. DLC will testify at the hearing.
DCF acts as the representative payee for approximately 1,250 children in foster care who are eligible to receive SSA benefits each month, either due to their own disability or based on a parent’s wage-earning record, specifically because their parents have retired, become disabled, or passed away. Instead of passing these funds onto the children or their foster families, or holding them in escrow for when they age-out of the system at age 21, DCF redirects a staggering 90% of these funds – totaling approximately $450,000 to $500,000 a month – into the state’s General Fund. Many of these children are unaware that they are eligible for SSA benefits, further compounding the issue. Annually, around $5.5 million in SSA benefits meant for these vulnerable youth is funneled away for the state’s own use, rather than being allocated for their care and future prospects. The practice disproportionately affects BIPOC and LGBTQ+ youth, who are overrepresented in the foster care system and more likely to experience disability.
The report highlights statistics that underscore the challenges faced by transition-age youth (age 21) in Massachusetts foster care:
40% lack stable housing;
- 74% are not enrolled in post-secondary education;
- 32% have not obtained a high school diploma;
- 46% do not have part- or full-time employment;
- 23% have experienced incarceration; and
- 18% are parents.
“The report we’ve released today underscores a critical point: these SSA benefits, meant to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable among us, are not being directed toward the betterment of foster care services or the well-being of these children. Instead, they are siphoned away, exacerbating the challenges these youth face as they navigate a complex and often unforgiving system,” said Barbara L’Italien, Executive Director of DLC, the Commonwealth’s Protection and Advocacy (P&A) system and a nonprofit organization advocating for human rights, empowerment, and justice for people with disabilities. “The practice not only raises serious ethical concerns but also fails to align with the core principles of justice and equity that should guide our approach to child welfare. It’s high time for a reevaluation of DCF’s policies.”
Rick Glassman, the lead author of the report and DLC’s Director of Advocacy, said the diversion of these funds is not only a public policy issue, it’s a moral one. “The amount of money is meaningless to a state with a $55 billion budget and an approximately $7.2 billion reserve fund. But to a young adult aging out of foster care, it can mean the difference between a transition to independence and life on the streets.”
The report highlights recommendations for reform within DCF to protect vulnerable youth in the foster care system. Similar policies in other states have been subjected to widespread criticism from national media, and as a result many states have adopted or introduced new policies or legislation to help young people conserve these benefits for adulthood.
“We must ensure that young adults, as they age out of foster care here in Massachusetts, have access to the social security benefits to which they are entitled to jumpstart their financial independence as they transition,” said Senator Jo Comerford (D-Northampton). “I am proud to sponsor a bill that would ensure these benefits are protected for youth in foster care, and would require DCF to provide financial literacy training to these individuals. Grateful for my partnership with Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, the Disability Law Center, and the Committee for Public Counsel Services.”
Amy Karp, an attorney at the Committee for Public Counsel Services, which represents children and young adults in foster care, said “these bills will protect some of our most vulnerable clients, those who leave DCF without a permanent connection to parents, family or community. If we permit children in foster care to retain the federal benefits to which they are legally entitled, we can change the trajectory of their lives. No youth should leave foster care to live on the streets.”
Other key recommendations include ending the practice of diverting SSA benefits from these children, safeguarding their assets for future independence, implementing universal screening to determine eligibility for adult SSA benefits, transparently notifying children and their guardians when DCF becomes their representative payee, and proactively seeking responsible family members or supporters to manage benefits where possible.