OLYMPIA - May 28, 2002 - The U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to hear a Washington case that will determine whether the state Department of Social and Health Services can use Social Security money received on behalf of foster children to help provide for the children's care.
The court announced it will review the case of Keffeler v. DSHS during its fall 2002 term. Attorney General Christine Gregoire sought high court review of the Washington Supreme Court's October 2001 decision in Keffeler. In a 5-3 decision, the court majority found that DSHS was not entitled to use Social Security money to cover a child's foster-care costs.
The state Supreme Court decision would make Washington the only state in the country unable to use Social Security payments to pay for a child's foster-care needs. Public agencies in all other states currently use the money for that purpose.
The state's position has been supported by the U.S. Department of Justice and in a "friend of the court" brief signed by 26 states and Puerto Rico. In addition, several national child-welfare organizations-the Children's Defense Fund, Catholic Charities USA, Child Welfare League of America and Alliance for Children and Families-filed briefs supporting the state and urging the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case.
"I am pleased the Court has agreed to review this important case, which has implications for foster-care programs throughout the country," Attorney General Christine Gregoire said. "A decision by the Supreme Court hopefully will settle any doubts that have been created over the use of Social Security money to meet the needs of foster children."
"This is a positive step forward. We certainly hope the U.S. Supreme Court will see the significant harm to foster children-not only in Washington but across the country-if states can't apply for benefits on their behalf," said Rosalyn Oreskovich, assistant secretary for the DSHS Children's Administration. "By stepping forward as representative payee for low-income and disabled foster children, DSHS makes sure they obtain these benefits, which they can carry forward into adulthood or home when they are reunited with their families."
The decision the Supreme Court will review arises from a class-action lawsuit filed in Okanogan County on behalf of all past, present and future foster children for whom the state sought and obtained Social Security money. DSHS typically seeks the money on the children's behalf in cases where there is no parent, guardian or relative available.
According to the U.S. Solicitor General's Office, when parents or guardians receive the money, it should be used to cover the cost of feeding, clothing and sheltering the children. "There is no reason why the State should not be able to use the child's benefits in the same way," the Solicitor General's Office said.
About two-thirds of the 1,500 foster children who receive the payments are eligible because they are both disabled and indigent. The other third are surviving dependents of deceased or disabled parents.
The Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the case this fall and likely will issue a decision next spring.
To view a background paper on the Keffeler case, go to the Attorney General's Web site.