Legislature(2005 - 2006)BUTROVICH 205


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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Scheduled But Not Heard
Moved CSHB 442(JUD) am Out of Committee
Heard & Held
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
Moved SCS CSHB 393(HES) Out of Committee
1:41:59 PM                                                                                                                    
        SB 287-POSTSECONDARY TUITION FOR FOSTER CHILDREN                                                                    
CHAIR DYSON announced SB 287 to be up for consideration.                                                                        
SENATOR JOHNNY ELLIS,  sponsor, presented the bill.  He said that                                                               
in any given  year there are approximately 1500  children in some                                                               
form  of foster  care in  the state  due to  abuse or  neglect in                                                               
their homes.  Of that number,  approximately 300 are 16,  17, and                                                               
18 year  olds who  are aging  out of the  foster care  system and                                                               
that  the state  offers very  little, if  any, support  for these                                                               
individuals.  He  said  that  SB   287  proposes  using  existing                                                               
agencies and establishing a statute  that would allow cooperation                                                               
among state agencies,  the University of Alaska  (UA), the Office                                                               
of Children's Services  (OCS), and the Office  of Faith-Based and                                                               
Community  Initiatives (OFBCI),  to  establish education  savings                                                               
accounts for these children.                                                                                                    
SENATOR  ELLIS said  that the  University of  Alaska 529  college                                                               
savings accounts  are managed by  T. Rowe  Price and are  said by                                                               
experts to  be among the  finest educational savings  programs in                                                               
the  nation. He  remarked that  the  529 savings  accounts are  a                                                               
great tool for getting these children off to a good start.                                                                      
He  emphasized  that  the   proposed  arrangement  would  require                                                               
nothing more than a statute  and cooperation among existing state                                                               
agencies  and  would  not  require the  establishment  of  a  new                                                               
program or new government funding.                                                                                              
1:46:03 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  DYSON moved  to adopt  SB  287 Version F,  as the  working                                                               
document, and objected for the purpose of discussion.                                                                           
1:46:18 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR DYSON asked  whether people are permitted  to establish the                                                               
scholarship funds for foster children at the present time.                                                                      
GABRIEL ACEVES, staff  to Senator Johnny Ellis,  replied that the                                                               
University of  Alaska College Savings  Plan accepts  donations to                                                               
open 529 accounts. However, the state  does not have a program to                                                               
advertise  the  opportunity  for  a friend  or  relation  of  the                                                               
beneficiary to make donations.                                                                                                  
1:47:23 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  ELLIS remarked  that  currently,  someone interested  in                                                               
making  such a  donation would  have no  way of  knowing who  the                                                               
foster children  are, due  to privacy  and protection  issues. He                                                               
said  that  is  why  it is  necessary  to  establish  cooperation                                                               
between the  University, OCS, which  knows the identities  of the                                                               
foster  children,  and  OFBCI, which  would  be  responsible  for                                                               
promoting the idea.                                                                                                             
1:48:02 PM                                                                                                                    
JULIE  MORRIS,  from  the Office  of  Faith-Based  and  Community                                                               
Initiatives, asked Mike Lesmann,  Community Relations Manager for                                                               
the Department  of Health and  Social Services (DHSS),  Office of                                                               
Children's Services, to join her before the committee.                                                                          
1:48:42 PM                                                                                                                    
MIKE LESMANN, introduced himself.                                                                                               
1:48:54 PM                                                                                                                    
MS. MORRIS said  that she is excited about this  bill because she                                                               
sees the OFBCI as the vehicle  to target foster children who have                                                               
aged  out  of  the  system  at 18  and  might  otherwise  end  up                                                               
homeless, with nothing, and nowhere to go.                                                                                      
She  said that  the bill  would allow  the OFBCI  to target  non-                                                               
profits,  community  and  faith-based  organizations  that  would                                                               
donate to these  programs so that, working together  with the the                                                               
OCS,  they could  create a  program  that is  not an  entitlement                                                               
program. She  added that there  are a lot  of people who  want to                                                               
contribute to foster care children but have no way to do it.                                                                    
1:50:35 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR DYSON asked what prevents the OFBCI from doing this now.                                                                  
MS.  MORRIS  replied  that  the  office,  which  has  only  three                                                               
employees, is  heavily burdened  by the  current demands  of that                                                               
office. She  added that  it has a  tremendous need  for technical                                                               
assistance  and for  assistance  applying for  grants since  many                                                               
non-profits  and faith-based  organizations  do not  know how  to                                                               
partner with government.                                                                                                        
She said  that partnering  with the OCS  makes sense  because the                                                               
privacy  laws governing  foster  children and  children in  state                                                               
custody  are very  strict and,  through their  partnership, OFBCI                                                               
could maintain  that confidentiality and still  provide a service                                                               
to these kids.                                                                                                                  
1:52:23 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  DYSON said  that his  question  was "What  keeps you  from                                                               
doing it?"  and part of her  answer was that OFBCI  does not have                                                               
the manpower.  He remarked  that he  does not  see how  this bill                                                               
would change that.                                                                                                              
MS. MORRIS replied  that their office has only  been in existence                                                               
for a  year and  is still  trying to  establish itself.  She said                                                               
that about  $275,000 was cut  from the  House and that  money was                                                               
needed to  put an office together  and hire a program  officer to                                                               
work with OCS.                                                                                                                  
1:53:31 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR GREEN asked why there is no fiscal note.                                                                                
CHAIR DYSON said that he is not clear on that.                                                                                  
1:53:50 PM                                                                                                                    
MR. LESMANN said  that the Office of Children's  Services is also                                                               
excited about this program, and supports  SB 287. He said that it                                                               
has  two  suggestions for  consideration.  First,  adding an  age                                                               
requirement to  focus on  youth who  have been  in custody  on or                                                               
after age 16. The existing  language states that "eligibility for                                                               
the program  is contingent on  having been placed in  foster care                                                               
for not less than two years", so  a child who was in foster care,                                                               
for example, from age one to age three, would be eligible.                                                                      
Second, the  OCS understands that  the sponsors do not  intend to                                                               
restrict eligibility  for children  who have  been placed  with a                                                               
relative  who  may not  be  a  licensed  foster  parent or  in  a                                                               
residential treatment facility,  but language on page  2, line 14                                                               
talks about the "child who has  been placed in a foster home". It                                                               
would  recommend  replacing  "a foster  home"  with  "out-of-home                                                               
care",  so that  it is  clear that  the language  applies to  any                                                               
child who was taken into state  custody and placed outside of his                                                               
or her own home.                                                                                                                
1:55:48 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR DYSON asked him how long he has been with the department.                                                                 
MR. LESMANN replied  that he had been with the  OCS since May 20,                                                               
CHAIR  DYSON recalled  working with  Karen  Perdue, the  previous                                                               
commissioner, on  other things for  kids who are "aging  out" and                                                               
said  he  believed  that  one  of  them  addressed  postsecondary                                                               
education. He asked if he had any knowledge of that.                                                                            
MR.  LESMANN  responded  that  OCS   has  a  program  called  the                                                               
Education and Training Voucher Program  (Alaska ETV Program) that                                                               
began  in 2001  when the  federal government  passed the  Federal                                                               
Chaffee  Foster  Care  Independence  Act. It  set  up  money  for                                                               
postsecondary education  for children in the  foster care system.                                                               
Students can receive up to  $5,000 per year for academic expenses                                                               
through it. Also,  the University offers up to  five Foster Youth                                                               
Tuition  Waiver Scholarships  per  year. The  OCS  has a  program                                                               
coordinator   in  the   deputy  commissioner's   office  who   is                                                               
responsible for an  independent living program and, in  each of 4                                                               
regions in  the state,  they have a  dedicated caseworker  who is                                                               
assigned to each of the children aging out of foster care.                                                                      
1:58:11 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR DYSON  asked if he  could provide documentation  to explain                                                               
those programs.                                                                                                                 
MR. LESMANN replied that he would be happy to do so.                                                                            
CHAIR DYSON  asked what  keeps the things  that Senator  Ellis is                                                               
talking about in SB 287 from happening now.                                                                                     
MR. LESMANN answered he is not  sure how to answer that question,                                                               
because he  doesn't understand the University's  current program.                                                               
The Office  of Faith-Based and Community  Initiatives, because it                                                               
is part of DHSS, as is  OCS, has no confidentiality issues within                                                               
the department. The OCS obviously knows  who the kids are and who                                                               
might be  appropriate for a  savings account, but  the procedures                                                               
are not set up and they are not referenced in state law.                                                                        
1:59:46 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR ELTON  said that  it seems  important to  include younger                                                               
children because  foster parents  and out-of-home  care providers                                                               
often  form   attachments  with  a   foster  child  and   may  be                                                               
particularly interested  in providing  for the education  of that                                                               
MR. LESMANN replied that it is  probably a public policy call and                                                               
the OCS's  recommendation is based  on criteria from  the Chaffee                                                               
Foster Care  Independence Act, which  established that  the child                                                               
must have  been in  custody on or  after his 16   birthday  to be                                                               
eligible  for  the Education  and  Training  Voucher Program.  He                                                               
asked the  committee to consider  a young  child who has  been in                                                               
state custody  and placed outside  his home  from age one  to age                                                               
three, and  who is then  reunited with his parents  and dismissed                                                               
from state  custody. The OCS would  have to track that  child for                                                               
the next 15 years, until he became eligible for the benefit.                                                                    
2:02:17 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR DYSON remarked  that the Senate passed HB  408 yesterday or                                                               
the day before,  which cleaned up a lot  of child-related issues.                                                               
One  section of  that  bill stipulated  that  the permanent  fund                                                               
dividend  (PFD) belonging  to a  child  in out-of-home  placement                                                               
must  be held  in  an interest-bearing  trust  or escrow  account                                                               
until  the child  is adopted.  He asked  how the  OCS anticipates                                                               
disbursing PFD funds and accumulated  interest to the 18-year-old                                                               
who is just getting out of state custody.                                                                                       
MR.  LESMANN  replied   that  a  number  of   scenarios  must  be                                                               
considered.  If a  child  were released  from  state custody  and                                                               
reunited with  his parents before  the age  of 18, the  PFD trust                                                               
account  would   be  released  to  the   biological  parents.  If                                                               
reunification with the biological parents  was not possible and a                                                               
legal  guardian  was named,  HB  408  stipulated that  the  trust                                                               
account would  remain protected  until the  child reached  18 and                                                               
would then be released to the child.                                                                                            
CHAIR DYSON asked how the funds would be released to the child.                                                                 
MR. LESMANN  responded that if the  child was no longer  in state                                                               
custody and  no caseworker or  independent living  specialist had                                                               
been assigned, there would be little or no further oversight.                                                                   
CHAIR  DYSON said  he  appreciates that  for  most purposes  this                                                               
state  considers  an 18-year-old  an  emancipated  adult, but  he                                                               
wondered  under   what  circumstances   the  state   would  offer                                                               
additional services  to a child  after age  18. He said  that his                                                               
understanding was  that, unless  he were of  diminished capacity,                                                               
the  state would  offer a  child additional  services only  if he                                                               
specifically asked for them.                                                                                                    
MR. LESMANN confirmed that understanding.                                                                                       
2:06:08 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR DYSON  asked whether  there are any  limits on  the federal                                                               
money that Mr. Lesmann mentioned earlier in his testimony.                                                                      
MR.  LESMANN  responded  that the  federal  government  gave  OCS                                                               
$176,000  during the  past year  for  the Alaska  ETV Program,  a                                                               
little less than during the prior year.                                                                                         
CHAIR DYSON calculated  that OCS could give $6,000 to  28 kids or                                                               
$3,000 to 50 kids and asked  how many children are actually aging                                                               
out each year with no  guardian, no reunification with biological                                                               
parents, and no adoption.                                                                                                       
MR. LESMANN responded that he  doesn't have that number; he knows                                                               
how many children  age out each year based on  age range, but not                                                               
in terms of status and a permanency plan.                                                                                       
MS. MORRIS showed Mr. Lesmann the sponsor statement.                                                                            
MR.  LESMANN  said  that the  sponsor  statement  indicates  that                                                               
nearly 500  children in state custody  age out each year  with no                                                               
permanency plan.                                                                                                                
CHAIR  DYSON said  that he  questions that  number, but  does not                                                               
have the  information. He asked Mr.  Lesmann if he could  stay to                                                               
answer questions later in the meeting.                                                                                          
MR. LESMANN said yes.                                                                                                           
2:07:58 PM                                                                                                                    
CHIP WAGGONER, Executive Director,  Alaska Conference of Catholic                                                               
Bishops, the  public policy arm  of the Roman Catholic  Church in                                                               
Alaska,  commended  Senator  Ellis  for his  innovative  idea  to                                                               
assist  foster   children  who   want  to   attend  postsecondary                                                               
education  and thanked  members of  the committee  who have  been                                                               
involved  with   foster  care  issues  both   professionally  and                                                               
personally.  Mr. Waggoner  pointed  out that  children need  many                                                               
things:  love,  an  adult  who cares  for  them,  continuity  and                                                               
certainty,  which provide  a sense  of security.  He related  the                                                               
story of a foster child who was  assigned to a group home and had                                                               
the  opportunity  to  get  into  a  better  academic  environment                                                               
through the assistance of a caring  adult. He said that this bill                                                               
would allow  other foster children  to have the  same opportunity                                                               
by bringing  the issue forward to  people who are in  a financial                                                               
position to donate. Also, this bill  would make it clear that the                                                               
OCS could  share information with  the University to  ensure that                                                               
the program  gets implemented.  He stressed  his support  for the                                                               
bill and urged the committee to push it through.                                                                                
2:12:09 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  DYSON said  that nothing  precludes Mr.  Waggoner and  the                                                               
Archdiocese  from setting  up scholarships  now  and making  them                                                               
available to kids who are aging out.                                                                                            
MR. WAGGONER  responded that  is probably  correct, but  that the                                                               
Alaska Conference  of Catholic Bishops  didn't know about  it and                                                               
he doubted  that members  of his  church knew  about it.  He said                                                               
that the  instruction to "identify  donors and  beneficiaries" is                                                               
important, because  it would  allow the  OFBCI to  put it  on its                                                               
CHAIR DYSON asked Mr. Waggoner whose website he had referred to.                                                                
MR.  WAGGONER  responded  that  the  Office  of  Faith-Based  and                                                               
Community Initiatives, OCS, University  of Alaska, and the Alaska                                                               
Conference of Catholic Bishops could put it on their websites.                                                                  
CHAIR DYSON said he  does not mean to argue, but  he is not aware                                                               
of anything  that prevents  any of those  groups from  doing that                                                               
2:13:34 PM                                                                                                                    
JAMES F. LYNCH, Associate Vice  President for Finance, University                                                               
of Alaska, Fairbanks, testified by  teleconference in favor of SB                                                               
287. He was  the drafter of the  original college-savings program                                                               
for the  University in 1991,  and of the current  college savings                                                               
program,  the goal  of which  is to  create access  to continuing                                                               
education,  and to  change the  mindset of  children and  parents                                                               
from "if  I go  to college" to  "when I go  to college."  He said                                                               
that  the   University  of  Alaska  contributes   five  four-year                                                               
scholarships every year through the federal program.                                                                            
2:16:19 PM                                                                                                                    
He said  that, as  a result  of the  permanent fund  dividend and                                                               
promotion  of  the  college  savings  program,  approximately  56                                                               
percent  of their  participants  come from  families with  annual                                                               
household  incomes  of  less than  $52,000.  A  similar  national                                                               
program  shows  only  17  percent  of  participants  with  annual                                                               
household incomes of less than $52,000.                                                                                         
MR. LYNCH said  that the college savings program  has a provision                                                               
for state agencies and non-profits  to open and maintain accounts                                                               
for  beneficiaries  and  has   special  provisions  for  un-named                                                               
accounts on which the opening agency  is the owner; but he thinks                                                               
it  is desirable  to have  a program  structured specifically  to                                                               
meet the  goals of OCS  with regard  to foster children.  He also                                                               
pointed out that this type of  program is long-term and it may be                                                               
20  or more  years before  the money  is taken  out and  used for                                                               
education, so  it is important  that the program  be administered                                                               
by an  organization or  agency that  is going  to be  around that                                                               
long.  A  non-profit  could  administer   the  program,  but  its                                                               
objectives may  not be  the same  as the OCS,  and there  is less                                                               
assurance that it  will be in existence long enough  to serve the                                                               
participants. He  views this  program as  a fairly  low-cost tool                                                               
the department can use to meet its objectives.                                                                                  
2:19:49 PM                                                                                                                    
MR.  LYNCH said  the university  manages 176,000  college savings                                                               
accounts, so  it is  important, administratively,  not to  have a                                                               
subgroup of accounts with special rules.                                                                                        
2:21:29 PM                                                                                                                    
He said  that very little  information would be  needed regarding                                                               
the beneficiaries.                                                                                                              
MR.  LYNCH  requested   a  change  on  page  1,   Section  1,  AS                                                               
47.05.400(a)(2)  which   reads,  "create  a  mechanism   for  the                                                               
University  of Alaska  to establish  and  maintain accounts".  He                                                               
said it  should read, "create  a mechanism for the  department to                                                               
establish and maintain accounts".                                                                                               
2:22:31 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR DYSON said  that there are two places in  the bill where it                                                               
adds language about confidentiality: page 4, line 5...                                                                          
MR. LYNCH  replied that the  college savings programs  are exempt                                                               
from  the  Public   Records  Act  and  that   those  records  are                                                               
maintained on a confidential basis.                                                                                             
CHAIR DYSON asked if state code  needed amending to make what the                                                               
committee is trying to do happen.                                                                                               
MR.  LYNCH replied  no, that  the records  will be  confidential,                                                               
however the OCS  might need authorization to  give the University                                                               
the names.                                                                                                                      
2:23:31 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  WILKEN  commented  that   Mr.  Lynch  crafted  the  1991                                                               
legislation  that created  the college  savings  plan and  helped                                                               
Senator Tim  Kelly in 1998 to  reauthorize and expand it.  It was                                                               
recently recognized by either Financial  World or the Wall Street                                                               
Journal as  the best in  the nation.  He commended Mr.  Lynch for                                                               
his work and thanked him for his effort.                                                                                        
CHAIR DYSON asked Mr. Lynch  if, in his opinion, this legislation                                                               
is necessary to enable private donations to foster children                                                                     
MR. LYNCH replied that it would be extremely helpful.                                                                           
2:25:03 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR DYSON asked Mr. Lesmann  to convince the committee that his                                                               
department  can  handle  the   coordination  and  maintenance  of                                                               
records  for  this program  with  existing  manpower and  without                                                               
additional expense,  in order to  deal with the matter  without a                                                               
fiscal note.                                                                                                                    
MR. LESMANN said that he would  not try to persuade the committee                                                               
in  that regard.  He admitted  that the  department's failure  to                                                               
provide   a   fiscal  note   was   an   oversight  and   accepted                                                               
responsibility   for  that.   The  OFBCI   would  probably   need                                                               
approximately $80,000  to add one full-time  program coordinator,                                                               
if  the money  that  was removed  from the  House  budget is  not                                                               
restored. He  said that  the department  would submit  an $80,000                                                               
fiscal note.                                                                                                                    
2:26:41 PM                                                                                                                    
MR. LYNCH  interjected that once  an account is  established, the                                                               
college-savings program would do all the recordkeeping.                                                                         
CHAIR DYSON  stated he was  having trouble reconciling  that with                                                               
what  Mr. Lynch  said  earlier.  He pointed  out  that Mr.  Lynch                                                               
wanted the committee to amend page 1, line 12.                                                                                  
MR. LYNCH  stated that the  OCS would  be the account  owner, and                                                               
the  University  would  seek  approval  from  the  department  to                                                               
withdraw funds. If  the funds weren't claimed  by the beneficiary                                                               
for whom they  were originally intended, they  would be available                                                               
to the department for use by another claimant.                                                                                  
2:28:19 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR DYSON  said that  he would  hear from  one more  person and                                                               
then the committee would set the  matter aside for a few minutes,                                                               
to  allow the  sponsor to  decide what  to do  with the  proposed                                                               
amendments and/or the fiscal note.                                                                                              
2:28:48 PM                                                                                                                    
AMANDA  METIVIER a  former  foster  child and  a  student at  the                                                               
University  of Alaska,  Anchorage,  testified in  support of  the                                                               
bill. She  said that, although there  are opportunities available                                                               
through the Alaska  ETV Program and the tuition  waiver, they are                                                               
not  enough. She  disagreed with  the implementation  of an  age-                                                               
eligibility  requirement of  16 or  over and  cited her  sister's                                                               
experience as  an example. Her  sister was placed in  foster care                                                               
at age 12  and placed with a  legal guardian at 15,  so she would                                                               
not be  eligible for this program  even though she is  now 18 and                                                               
without educational resources.                                                                                                  
2:30:46 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR DYSON thanked Ms. Metivier for her testimony.                                                                             
He announced that SB 287 would be set aside.                                                                                    

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