San Diego’s Foster Youth Betrayed: Democrat Leadership Fails to Protect Their Benefits and Provide Promised Support

San Diego County’s Democrat leadership has come under intense scrutiny due to their poor management and failure to deliver on numerous promises, ranging from addressing homelessness to tackling climate change. However, their most recent blunder involves the mishandling of social security and disability payments intended for foster children. Shockingly, the county has taken more than $3 million from these children without their knowledge or consent, causing severe hardships for many, including individuals like Katrina, who find themselves homeless and struggling to survive.

Katrina is just one of the many former foster children who face homelessness immediately upon reaching adulthood. Unbeknownst to her, she qualified for survivor benefits following the untimely deaths of her parents when she was still a child. These benefits could have provided much-needed support and assistance to overcome the numerous challenges faced by foster youth. However, San Diego County callously redirected Katrina’s entitled benefits into county bank accounts, leaving her without the crucial assistance she desperately needed.

It’s worth noting that San Diego County is not alone in this reprehensible practice. However, Amy Harfeld, an attorney from Washington D.C working at the University of San Diego’s Children’s Advocacy Institute, rightly condemns the state’s secret interception of funds from foster youth as both immoral and predatory, particularly considering their vulnerable position.

Efforts have been made by the Children’s Advocacy Institute to change laws and prevent agencies from retaining foster children’s benefits. Several states, including Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, and Nebraska, have already outlawed this practice. In California, there are bills currently under consideration that, if passed, will provide similar protection for foster children.

Assembly Bill 1512, introduced by State Assemblymember Isaac Bryan in February of this year, aims to prohibit county agencies from utilizing a foster child’s state or federal benefits to cover their care expenses. Additionally, it mandates that agencies inform the child or their guardian about the benefit payments. While San Diego County officials claim to have taken proactive measures to address the issue, former foster youth like Katrina continue to struggle with the consequences. They urgently require support and guidance, which are sorely lacking.

The mismanagement of foster children’s benefits by San Diego County’s Democrat leadership is entirely unacceptable. The county must assume responsibility for its actions and extend assistance to former foster youth who find themselves homeless and in dire straits. It is imperative that the proposed state bill be enacted to safeguard foster children’s benefits and ensure their awareness of these entitlements. San Diego’s Democrat leadership must fulfill their commitments and strive for a brighter future for all constituents, with special attention given to the most vulnerable among them.

Original Article Link: San Diego has taken millions in benefits from foster kids |

It was just hard because I couldn’t really survive. I was cold. It was raining. I really couldn’t survive. Some days I didn’t have enough money to get a bite to eat.” says Katrina, as she stands in knee-high weeds near a La Mesa trolley station, the small plot of land where she pitched her two-person tent, the place where she once called home.

Katrina is one of thousands of former foster children who are forced into homelessness as soon as they become adults.

She is also one of the hundreds of foster children who had their social security benefits taken without their knowledge and deposited into county coffers.

“I didn’t even know that I qualified for that,” said Katrina about the survivor benefits that she was entitled to after her dad died from a heart attack when she was nine and her mom died just two years later.

“I’m extremely disappointed because I really needed that support. Even before I experienced homelessness, I knew that I was going to be homeless, even before.”

Since 2015, San Diego County has taken more than $3 million in social security or disability payments from foster children without their knowledge or consent and deposited it into county bank accounts.

Katrina isn’t sure where her survivor benefits went. She had moved between San Bernardino and San Diego Counties prior to turning 18.

One thing she does know is that the money that she was entitled to her would have helped her wade through the flood of difficulties that so many foster youth experiences.

“It’s hard for us to even adapt to the normal life. It’s hard for us to get through life since we don’t know what we need,” added Katrina.

Katrina is not alone.

More than 300 foster children have had benefits taken

Public documents obtained by CBS 8 show that San Diego County has collected $3,214,968 in retirement benefits, disability payouts, or social security survivor benefits from 310 foster youth in the past eight years.

Signing foster children up for disability benefits and survivor benefits if their parent has died without informing the child is the standard operating procedure at Child Welfare agencies in San Diego and throughout the country, says Washington D.C-based attorney Amy Harfeld, who works for the University of San Diego’s Children’s Advocacy Institute.

Harfeld tells CBS 8 that over the years states across the country have taken an estimated $250 million in benefits from foster children before depositing them into municipal accounts.

“When hardworking Americans contribute every paycheck to their Social Security fund, it’s not a donation to the child welfare system, it’s supposed to be there for them when they retire. If they don’t make it to retirement, it’s supposed to be there for their dependents or for their children. So for the state to intercept that money in secret behind the backs of foster youth, while they’re in a particularly vulnerable position, is immoral and quite frankly predatory,” says Harfeld.

“For kids who have access to these assets, this is a literal lifeline. It can mean the difference between housing and homelessness. It can mean the difference between food security or going hungry,” added Harfeld. “It can mean the difference between having a vehicle to get to a job or claiming unemployment.”

In recent years, the Children’s Advocacy Institute has made some headway in getting laws changed to prevent agencies from keeping foster children’s benefits.

States such as Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, and Nebraska have outlawed the practice.

Meanwhile a handful of states, including California, now have bills that, if passed, will follow suit.

“From coast to coast, states are realizing that not only is this practice unethical, it’s also contrary to providing good outcomes for youth and ultimately much more expensive for taxpayers,” says Harfeld.

Assembly Bill 1512

In February of this year, State Assemblymember Isaac Bryan who represents South Los  Angeles introduced Assembly Bill 1512.

If passed, the state bill will prohibit county agencies from using a foster child’s state or federal benefits to pay for their care. It will also require that agencies notify the child or their guardian of the benefit payments.

Awaiting Direction from the State

And as state lawmakers discuss the bill in Sacramento, San Diego County officials say they have taken proactive steps in addressing the payments.

“If the County is the representative payee, the benefits still go into the child’s reserve account under the county’s main account to accrue interest,” a county spokesperson tells CBS 8.

The spokesperson, however, says the county is waiting for guidance from the state in regard to benefits that were intercepted prior to the policy change.

Said the spokesperson, “For Survivor’s Benefits obtained prior to March 2022, the process has yet to be changed pending clarification from the State.”

That means for former foster youth such as Katrina, the struggles will continue.

“Being a foster youth in general, is hard,” said Katrina. “It’s hard for us to even adapt to normal life. And it’s hard for us to even get through life if we don’t know what we need to do. There’s just not that support. We don’t get that guidance. So if we have some type of support or guidance for programs to help us in most aspects, we would take full advantage of it.”

Sarah Pauter is a former foster youth who now is a community advocate and has helped Katrina access some of the services.

She says the county’s policy is and has been totally unacceptable.

“It was so alarming when I found out from her that she ended up in foster care because both of her parents had passed away and that she actually knew that the counties were intercepting her federal benefits. It really highlights what a serious issue this is. I mean, we’re talking about a young person who’s 22, who aged out of foster care was told by the county, to get a job, save money so you can pay for your own housing. Meanwhile, how many tens of thousands of dollars did they probably take from her, or intercept that were her parents’ benefits to reimburse themselves for her care? It is just so unacceptable.”