- Alex Rizo
- Ana Maria Rodriguez
- College fee waivers
- College tuition waivers
- Danny Burgess
- David Borrero
- foster care
- foster children
- foster parents
- Ileana Garcia
- James Bush III
- Jason Brodeur
- Jeanette Nunez
- Manny Diaz Jr.
- Out-of-home care
- Ron DeSantis
- SB 7034
- SB 858
- Shelter care system
- Shevaun Harris
- Tom Fabricio
- Vance Aloupis
- Wilton Simpson
Gov. Ron DeSantis stopped in Miami Tuesday morning to sign legislation expanding financial benefits for foster parents, caregivers and former foster children seeking higher education within the state.
The measure (SB 7034) places $44 million into two pots. The larger one, a $25 million allocation, will provide a $200 monthly subsidy to foster parents and other caregivers of preschool children to help cover child care and early learning costs. The remaining $19 million will go toward increasing stipends for relatives and nonrelatives who house and raise children to the same level as those given to licensed foster parents.
Florida already provides tuition waivers at state colleges, universities and workforce education programs for many foster youths. The new law, effective July 1, broadens those exemptions by expanding tuition and fee waivers to children who were in the shelter care system, out-of-home care or were adopted after being in state care.
Youths who spent at least 18 months in out-of-home care but were reunited with their parents will also be able to take advantage of the waivers, as will children who were placed in permanent guardianship and kids who went through dependency proceedings or a proceeding that terminated their parents’ rights.
“You can have lip service and talk about adoption and foster care, but are you going to actually put the money where your mouth is (and) deliver policy that is going to show that commitment is real? The signing of this bill … should leave no doubt in the minds of anybody in the state of Florida that this state stands committed to the proposition that every life counts,” DeSantis said. “All these kids deserve an opportunity, and we’re going to do what we can to make sure their dreams and hopes and aspirations can become a reality in a loving home.”
DeSantis signed the measure at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus in front of a passel of supporters. He was joined onstage by Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, Senate President Wilton Simpson, Department of Children and Families Secretary Shevaun Harris, Sens. Danny Burgess, Manny Diaz Jr., Ileana Garcia and Ana Maria Rodriguez, and Reps. Vance Aloupis, David Borrero, James Bush III, Tom Fabricio and Alex Rizo.
The legislation came from the Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs, which Garcia chaired. It passed through both chambers of the Legislature with unanimous support.
Sanford Sen. Jason Brodeur sponsored a similar proposal (SB 858) that died without a hearing.
As of Dec. 31, there were more than 22,000 Florida children in out-of-home care, a court-monitored process in which children are removed from their homes due to abuse and/or neglect. Fewer than half of them were placed with approved relatives and nonrelatives, according to a January report from the Department of Children and Families.
For Simpson, who was adopted at age 6, the issue is personal. He has pushed for years to overhaul the state’s child welfare safety net and oversaw updates last year implementing a new tracking system for youths in the system and creating a new process allowing parents to regain their rights.
“I’ve always talked about … rising tides lifting more boats,” he said. “We want to make sure part of that tide is around these boats and make sure these children have a chance, because they started off with such low odds.”
The setting for the bill’s signing was appropriate, Nuñez said, noting Miami Dade College’s “strong network of support for students transitioning from foster care,” including a program allowing students to study abroad.
“We’re providing young people who have faced unimaginable difficulties with the opportunity to gain self-sufficiency through degree attainment, through higher learning, through skills attainment,” she said. “All these options for them will provide them with a path which will allow them to achieve their God-given potential.”