A Morrison & Foerster pro bono team obtained a settlement with the Hawaii Department of Human Services that will provide more than $86 million to Hawaii’s foster care families during the next 10 years. The agreement is intended to bring to a close a federal class action lawsuit that was filed in December 2013, and a related case filed in state court.
Under federal law, states must reimburse foster parents for nearly all the costs of rearing a foster child placed in their care by the state. When MoFo filed the federal lawsuit, Hawaii’s foster parents received only $529 per month, which was not nearly enough. The amount had not been changed to keep up with increases in the cost of living for more than 25 years. Under the terms of the settlement, the reimbursement rates will increase to $649 for foster children ages 5 or younger; $742 for ages 6 – 11; and $776 for ages 12 and up. Additionally, the annual clothing allowance for each foster child will increase by between $210 and $426, depending on the age of the child. The settlement will remain in place for 10 years, during which time DHS has agreed to pursue increases to the reimbursement amounts as inflation increases the costs of caring for foster children.
The case previously settled in 2016 but it was reopened after the state legislature failed to fund the settlement. While preparing for a new trial in April 2018, the team successfully brokered an amended agreement supported by the legislature, attorney general, and governor. The agreement has now been signed into law.
MoFo represented the foster parents in the case, alongside the non-profit Hawai‘i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, and Hawaiian law firm Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing. The MoFo team was led by partner Marc Peters and associates James Hancock and Alessa Hwang. Former MoFo attorneys A.C. Johnston and Joe Kanada were also members of the team.