TWIN FALLS • When Mary Jo and Marvin Gartner decided to take in a foster child 15 years ago, they knew expenses would be tight.
The child would need clothes, shoes and plenty of other supplies. While they received a stipend from the state, some months became tighter than usual. Yet, the couple says the rewards of being foster care parents outweigh the challenges of staying in the system.
“People don’t do foster care for the money,” Mary Jo Gartner said. “The money covers the base costs.”
State lawmakers are currently discussing those costs, mulling a budget request to raise Idaho’s foster care reimbursements.
In January, the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee listened to a proposal from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to grant $500,000 in extra foster care reimbursement funds. The committee hasn’t set a specific date this session to finalize its decision on that budget. The budget then will be considered by the full House and Senate.
Money shouldn’t be the reason to take in a foster care child, but increasing reimbursements could help attract more families who have an interest, said Susan Baca, a resource parent training consultant for Magic Valley Youth and Adult Services.
“It can be a challenge,” she said.
In Idaho, foster families are paid $300 a month for children ages 0-5 years old, $339 for ages 6-12, and $453 for ages 13-18. The proposed budget would increase the reimbursements to $329, $366 and $487, respectively.
Raising the monthly stipend would help cover the hidden costs of taking care of a foster child, said Breana Arnell of Oakley, a foster parent of two.
Multiple trips to counselors, doctors and, sometimes, probation officers can quickly add up, she said.
“I live in Oakley, I have to travel to Burley quite a bit,” she said.
Yet the challenges shouldn’t deter families from getting involved in the foster care system, Arnell said.
“Watching these kids grow every day and overcome challenges is extremely rewarding,” she said. “The money will work itself out if you budget.”
Mary Jo Gartner said she would welcome an increase in monthly reimbursements, especially in light of rising gasoline prices. But she’s not worried if the budget proposal doesn’t pass.
“I raise these children like my own,” she said. “You take them in not because you’re going to get rich. Some months are worse than others but what are you going to do? Not buy them Christmas presents or taken them to the water park with the rest of your kids?”