New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation late last month making it easier for close relatives and family friends to receive financial support for kinship guardianship agreements (KinGAP). Godparents, step-parents, the adoptive parents of half-siblings, neighbors and other kinds of kin will be eligible for the subsidy until the child turns 21.
“Getting this legislation signed into law was crucial to improving the future of foster children across the state. All children in this state, whether they are foster children or not, deserve to have every possible opportunity afforded to them,” said state Senator Tony Avella in a statement emailed to The Chronicle of Social Change. Avella and state Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi, both Queens-area state legislators, sponsored versions of the bill that Cuomo ultimately signed in their respective chambers.
Previously, only New Yorkers who were directly related to a child through blood, marriage or adoption could receive KinGAP subsidies, which range between $500 and $900 per month depending on the child’s age and where the foster family calls home. All such families receive a one-time payment of $2,000 per child for the costs associated with securing guardianship.
The bill is the latest in a string of state bills nationwide expanding the definition of “close relatives” eligible to receive foster care payments. A federal law, the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, created the option for states to use federal funding for KinGAP payments.
New York started its guardianship payment program in 2011, and advocates say the new law expanding eligibility this year helps the state catch up to the rest of the nation.
“When we had gotten the initial KinGAP bill, there were components we wished we could have done better. But when you’re negotiating, you’re happy to get much of what you want, if not everything. We knew there were things we were going to have to advocate for later,” said Stephanie Gendell, the associate executive director for policy and advocacy at the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York, which was a leading proponent for the bill.
In 2015, the state received 421 KinGAP applications, the vast majority of which were in New York City. Most children entering into a KinGAP situation were younger than 13.
“[The bill] covers three gaps in the original bill: making sure that sibling groups can stay together, especially half-siblings; making close relations, fictive kin like godparents eligible for payments; and the last piece was extending the subsidy to age 21,” said Kari Siddiqui, a senior policy analyst for the Schuyler Center, which supported the bill.
The new legislation also cleans up a timing issue. Under current law, if a KinGAP arrangement is finalized before the age of 16, then the subsidy only continues to age 18. If it’s finalized after age 18, it extends to 21.
“There was a perverse incentive for would-be parents to wait until the child turned 16 to finalize their guardianship. This bill fixes that,” Siddiqui said.
The Census Bureau estimated in 2012 that roughly 3 million children were being raised by their grandparents, other relatives or close family friends. Children placed with relatives make up more than a quarter of kids in foster care nationwide.
The New York bill passed unanimously in both houses, and had wide support from an array of other child welfare organizations, including the New York state and city bar associations and the Committee on Children and the Law.
“These groups all saw in their communities that KinGAP is an issue we need to address. In the purview of social services and helping these kids, KinGAP was one of the greatest needs,” said Brent Weitzberg, chief of staff to Assemblymember Hevesi.
“Hundreds of children will now leave the foster care system and live in permanent homes, exponentially increasing their chances for success and self-sufficiency,” Hevesi said in an emailed statement.
According to advocates, only mild opposition to the latest KinGAP bill came from county child welfare agency directors behind closed doors, who had concerns about costs to their departments. The New York Public Welfare Association did not respond to request for comment.
The next big question for kinship care in New York state is funding. Advocates like Stephanie Gendell are pushing the governor’s office to move KinGap funding off the ledger for foster care funding – a capped allocation which saw major cuts last year – to its own uncapped funding stream, similar to how adoption is funded. But it looks like an uphill battle.
“We’re anticipating another pretty bad budget year,” Gendell said.
This article has been updated to clarify that kinship guardianship payments go to close kin who assume legal guardianship over a child.