State Budget Deadlock Keeps Foster Families on Edge

Social service payments face possible March 1 cutoff

Sticky Prices
ASSOCIATED PRESS

The state budget battle in Sacramento is having a troubling impact on thousands of foster families and group homes that rely on state social-service payments.

A March 1st funding cutoff looms.

And that could throw a fragile system into chaos.

Six teenage girls are living with Shaaron Schuemaker and her husband in Bonita.

They're all bracing for the prospect of less -- or no -- state money coming in.

The family belt-tightening began when the county gave them a warning last week.

"Allowances have to be stopped," Shaaron said in an interview Monday. The girls aren't going to get any entertainment. "They're going to have to stay home."

The foster payments range from about $450 to $600 a month, depending on the girls' ages.

Shaaron says the state's payments are at least 40 percent lower than national standards.

And, that children in foster homes are bankrolled at rate almost twice as high as foster parents get.

Overhead and food costs are barely covered, according to Shaaron.

"The state gives us the average of twelve dollars per day per child," she noted. "You can't kennel a dog for that amount of money."

Clothing, entertainment and incidentals such as school trips, class pictures, and proms come out of the Schuemakers' own pocket.

"The kids want brand-name shoes, they want to go to school looking decent," Shaaron explains. "They don't want to look like 'foster kids'."

None of this seems lost on the girls.

Sadie, the eldest, has this perspective on their foster mother and life in the family: "She (Shaaron) still takes us places; she treats us really good. She does a lot of stuff she doesn't have to do ...

"We do the best we can to get along, to have fun, without a lot of money, y'know?"

The budget stalemate in the Legislature especially sticks in Shaaron's craw.

"I'm angry, I'm angry, that these people (lawmakers) are getting paid huge amounts of money -- by my standards -- for a job they're not doing," she says.

"I think if there's no state budget, they're the first ones who should be taking a hit. Not us."

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