Allegheny County Should Not Put Foster Children at Risk to Save Money

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial board (which endorsed Corbett and Wagner for God’s sake)

Allegheny County is planning to use the cards to issue payments to foster parents. That’s the wrong way to go. State and local governments should be trying to protect workers and consumers from exploitation, not using the service just because they can save a few bucks on payroll processing. 

This in response to plans announced (under the radar) by Allegheny County Department of Human Services to issue subsidies to foster parents and other programs via plastic debit cards, with no option to receive either a direct deposit or a paper check. Allegheny County Logo

This in response to a class action lawsuit filed in Philadelphia against a McDonalds franchise owner for only paying his employees via debit cards, with no option to receive either a direct deposit or a paper check.

The problem? Fees. Employees and subsidy recipients have to negotiate a complicated set of obstacle to access funds they are legally owed. That’s ridiculous. Yes, there are ways to avoid fees – but do we REALLY want to make foster parents lives MORE complicated for a subsidy that’s barely subsistence?

Example, when you receive your payment you can make ONE fee-free withdrawal from an ATM to take the money to your own bank. If you are paid in an amount that ends in $20, fine. If you receive say  $629.27 – you have to leave the balance on the card. Then you carry the large amount of cash to your bank to deposit. So you are making a minimum of two trips during banking hours, carrying a large amount of cash. Mind you, you already use your lunch hours and PTO to take the foster kids to the doctor, meet with their teachers, attend court hearings, attend your own trainings, etc.

The County is set to save $40k from this change – foster parents have no choice in the matter. So is it reasonable to transfer $40k onto the backs of the 1,000 foster families in the County instead of disbursing it among all of the residents who pay taxes? We are talking about caring for the most vulnerable children in our society.

Then there’s the unspoken cost of fallout – if a handful of families leave foster parenting over this barrier, the costs of transferring the children and finding/training new foster parents will exceed $40k. Trust me on that. When you consider the expenses of providing mandatory 20 hours of training, plus home visits, paperwork, ongoing training, etc PLUS the costs to the child of their placement being disrupted — this is not a deal for anyone.

The County has been a significant part of many innovative self-sufficiency programs – car loans for people with poor credit history, banking issues, financial literacy, and so much more – this is clearly a step backward in terms of all of that progress to help families become more self-sufficient. It lacks dignity, it sends a message about the value of the children being served and it smacks of the concept of “undeserving poor” – all of which are antithetical to the mission of this Department.

The solution is for the County to offer foster parents a choice that supports the dignity of their service to our community, not treat them like commodities. Foster parents should have access to a direct deposit option AND the County should work with those who are “unbanked” to open a checking or savings account if they prefer to avoid the debit card. I still think the paper check option is a good third option, but at the very least offering direct deposit is the fair and dignified thing to do.

Note – apparently, the Unemployment Office does this too as do several private employers.

I do want to add that I emailed four members of Allegheny County Council, including my own member and the chair of the Human Services Committee along with the Chief Executive. I had no response until the story broke in the Post-Gazette and I followed up with all of them, including the link. The Chief Executive had someone respond to me, but only County Council Member At Large Heather Heidelbaugh responded to me otherwise. 

It does seem that some members are using an email forward system so their corporate or home web filters can be unintentionally sending constituent email to spam – that’s something to be investigated because THIS constituent is not pleased that the only person who had the courtesy to respond to her is a Republican. 

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