PHOENIX — In his final budget, Governor Doug Ducey released his plan to significantly increase help for Arizonans who are raising a relative's children that have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect.
The state-funded monthly stipend of $75 would be bumped to $300 to assist formal kinship caregivers in instances where the Department of Child Safety (DCS) has placed the children. Some families also qualify for up to $165 per month from the federal Temporary Assistance for Need Family program.
More than 6,700 children in Arizona are in kinship foster care.
The increase in state funds are a change grandparent and kinship care advocates have been urging legislators to pass for several years.
Sherry Griffin, a kinship caregiver who also advocates for the community said the increase would make a meaningful difference for families who never expected to have the children, often with very little notice.
"Once they get to your house, oftentimes a child will just come with a bag of clothes, and they don't fit and they're dirty or soiled," Griffin said. "They need clothing for school, they need beds, they need food, they need diapers. Can you imagine having numerous children placed with you having nowhere to put them all?"
Griffin said she knows families who have emptied their savings and retirement plans trying to keep the children out of community foster homes.
State Representative Jeff Weninger (R-Chandler) introduced HB 2274 on Friday that increases the stipend to $300 like Ducey's proposal and would allocate money from the state's general fund on an ongoing basis. The legislation also specifies that a kinship foster would not be required to apply for the stipend to receive it.
Ducey's budget also prioritizes streamlining the foster licensing process for kinship caregivers but was not clear on how that would be done. Instead, it said DCS plans to review its licensing process, which would allow more kinship families to qualify.
Becoming a licensed foster parent is the only way that kinship foster families can access the same financial assistance that community foster families receive which averages $640 per month, per child with both state and federal funding.
But Griffin says the process is too burdensome for kinship placements, which requires specific sleeping arrangements, months of training, and other expenses for families who already have the children.
"If you're living in a one-bedroom apartment, you get four kids, how can you afford to move and get into a new apartment that has the appropriate number of bedrooms or for licensing?" Griffin said.
Advocates are starting the legislative session hopeful that these proposals will become law and plan to lobby legislators to make it happen.
"When we tell them our stories, that's when they start understanding how policy affects our families and laws and how they can change them to better suit, you know, the kids and their needs."