Bill would slash stipend for foster children aging out

Posted: Updated:

PHOENIX -- There was a Thanksgiving Day feast at the State Capitol Friday. It wasn't legislators, but kids in foster care who enjoyed a holiday meal. It was an attempt to show who will be among the most affected by budget cuts now under consideration.

Every year about 550 kids age out of foster care in Arizona. That means they turn 18 and are basically on their own. As long as they work and go to school, they are given a modest stipend -- a stipend that will soon probably be cut.

“It’s hard, it’s really hard,” said Shalla Robinson. “I think about that all the time because I’m in that situation like every day."

Robinson has aged out of foster care, but many of the kids who enjoyed a holiday feast on the Capitol lawn have not. Together they represent those who Gov. Jan Brewer has described as the most vulnerable in our state.

“There will be a cut to the independent living stipend that will have a drastic effect on those aging out of foster care,” said Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor.

Under a bill now under consideration by the Legislature, the monthly stipend for these kids will be reduced from $720 to $550.

“That’s going back to the rate that I received many years ago when I was 18,” said Regeanna Mwansa. “Think about trying to survive on the same amount of stipend that I had in 1995.”

Mwansa is a success story, but many of her peers are not. Only 3 percent graduate college while 25 percent end up living on the street.

An interfaith coalition of churches is launching a suitcase initiative to help ease the difficult transition.

“They’re going to have gas cards, gift cards, bus passes, references of who to contact, where to go in a crisis situation,” explained Rev. Gary Webb.

State lawmakers find themselves in a crisis situation as far as the budget is concerned, and Sen. Landrum Taylor feels it’s time to give serious consideration to a penny increase in the state sales tax.

“With that particular penny, as long as it goes toward education, health and welfare, public safety, I would have no problem making sure that’s taken care of,” she said.

The tax increase to which the senator is referring is the same tax advocated by Gov. Brewer. Its future, however, is very much in doubt since it has little support in the Legislature. The reality is the DES budget has already been cut by 31 percent and future cuts are almost a foregone conclusion.