By ADAM DeLAY
Capital News Service
LANSING – Foster parents who smoke may soon see a part of their state payments go up in smoke.
A bill by Sen. Tom George, R-Texas Township, would reward non-smoking foster care families by adding 50 cents per day to their payment rates but would deduct 50 cents if a smoker lives in the household.
Although the daily impact is small, it would amount to $182.50 a year per child.
George, a physician, said the goal is to create a healthier environment for children.
“Secondhand smoke is the leading environmental health hazard in Michigan,” he said. “We should encourage foster homes to be smoke-free, and this would send a message to foster parents that they can be rewarded for doing so.”
Gary McMullen, vice president of executive relations for the American Cancer Society Great Lakes Division in East Lansing, said the dangers of secondhand smoke are clear. “Numerous studies have shown that secondhand smoke is dangerous,” he said. “The science is irrefutable.”
McMullen said the cancer society tries to educate parents about the risks of smoking around children.
“Our pulpit is that it’s dangerous,” he said. “We want parents to know the dangers of secondhand smoke that come from smoking around children.”
George said the bill exempts licensed foster parents who are related to their foster children. “The courts have recognized that there is some benefit in having foster kids raised by relatives, for familiarity and continuity, and I don’t want to disturb that.”
The payments that would be affected are the state subsidies foster parents receive to care for children.
Colleen Steinman, a communications representative for the Department of Human Services (DHS), said payments foster parents receive vary.
“Foster children who meet certain criteria can receive subsidies ranging from $18 to $30 per day per child, depending on the needs of the child or children,” she said.
All foster parents must be licensed by DHS unless they’re relatives of the child, but Steinman said that relatives who are not licensed don’t qualify for subsidies.
George said that he understands some families may lie about their smoking habits.
“No system is foolproof, but if parents lie or falsely apply, there’s the potential for them to lose their license,” he said.
According to DHS, there are just under 6,000 children in licensed foster care in the state and about another 6,000 living with licensed or unlicensed relatives. About 1,000 children live in a child caring institution.
Steinman said DHS has yet to decide whether it supports the legislation. “We haven’t had time to come to a decision, but we are studying the bill right now.”
George said that the state has a responsibility to look after foster children.
“If the state pays for the health care and the foster care of these children, then we have a responsibility to encourage parents to provide a smoke-free environment,” he said.
The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Patty Birkholz, R-Saugatuck, and is pending in the Senate Committee on Families and Human Services.
© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.