Nebraska's Taking Of Payments To Foster Children Questioned

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Some lawmakers and child advocates are raising concerns about Nebraska’s practice of seizing the Social Security payments to foster children to pay for their care, while Nebraska officials defend the practice as legal.

Since 2009, the state has paid a Virginia firm to research which of the state’s 4,000 foster children might be eligible for Social Security, either due to a physical or mental disability or the death of a parent, and then go after those benefits, the Omaha World-Herald reported. The state pays Maximus Health Services about $300,000 a year for the service.

The effort reaped about $2.7 million in benefits a year in the last three years. The usurped benefits are used to reimburse state expenses for foster care.

State Sen. Megan Hunt, of Omaha, said she was shocked to learn that foster children weren’t being informed that their Social Security benefits were being used by the state. She has scheduled a study of the issue for the months before the next legislative session, and Nebraska Appleseed, which advocates for children and the poor, is supporting her move.

Garret Swanson, a spokesman for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, said the practice is permitted under federal and state law and that foster children aren't informed of their benefits being taken because they're minors.

“The state of Nebraska is aware this practice is being reconsidered in other states," Garret said. "However, there is no legal question under Nebraska law."