The bill that expands the foster care emancipation age to 21 passed overwhelmingly in the Ohio House on Tuesday, though at this juncture, funding is not in the language.
The measure cleared the House floor with a 91 to 2 vote. When House Bill 50 was first introduced, the appropriation was $300,000 in 2016 to plan and $4.5 million worth of state and federal funds to implement in 2017. In the version that passed 28 to 3 in the Finance Committee, the new price tag was bumped up to $550,000 for planning purposes and $24.5 million for implementation. The recently introduced senate bill includes $550,000 for planning but only $12.4 million to put the plan in action.
Mark Mecum, chair of Ohio Fostering Connections, said he has been assured funding will be in place. The planning portion is evidently going to be placed in another appropriation bill and the rest will likely be plugged into the 2017 budget. The law states it must be implemented July 1, 2017.
“The whole concept of House Bill 50 is to create a new statewide program which requires funding,” Mecum said. “I am not worried at all that the General Assembly will move forward with the legislation without its required appropriation. I’ve been assured by many different legislators that it’ll take some time and it will require a lot of discussion but ultimately they’re going to make it happen.”
The federal government passed the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act in 2008 that allows the use of federal dollars to expand foster care. There are 26 other states that have adopted similar legislation. The fiscal analysis for the bill notes the state’s contribution — it is cost-free to counties — would be approximately $9.7 million in the first year.
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The bill’s main sponsor, State Rep. Dorothy Pelanda, R-Marysville, said the bill languished for so long because she included another critical component that mandates that guardians receive a guide book and sign a paper to prove they got it so they can’t claim ignorance later.
She said people didn’t want to believe guardians have in some situations been taking advantage of their wards.
“I think anytime you’re trying to change a culture it takes a long time,” she said. “It’s all about education and getting people comfortable with this change. I think there was a lot of denial especially with the guardianship piece, that any kind of this abuse was occurring across the the state.”
Butler County Children Services Executive Director Ray Pater said he is encouraged by the show of legislative support for this important program.
“I think the passing of HB 50 now gives teenagers who would otherwise have aged out of foster care with no support systems to have a realistic opportunity to succeed on their own as they will now have help until the age of 21,” Pater said.
Pelanda said it will remain to be seen what the law will look like once both chambers have a chance to hash it out. But the strong support already displayed in the senate — Sen. John Eklund and nine other senators sponsored SB 240 — gives her a sense of confidence the bill will become law.
“It’s much harder to get a bill passed through the House with 99 people than it is 33,” she said. “He started that process to say ‘look we’re ready, we’re anxious we’re ready to go on this.’ I will be working with Senator Eklund to help get 50 moved through the Senate now very quickly. It opened the conversation over there.”
Eklund said he fully supports all the contents of the House bill and her hasn’t heard any opposition on the Senate side to the guardianship provision. He said he hopes they can push it through quickly, but that doesn’t really happen very often.
“I wish I would come across a bill in my time here that fell into the slam dunk category,” he said. “None of them ever do it seems, unfortunately. But I think we can take some measure of comfort that it’s had now apparently a full vetting in the House. We will certainly look at it diligently.”