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Governor’s budget vetoes include foster system cuts, drawing strong opposition from advocates

Dunleavy administration maintains vetoes will not impact OCS staffing
Gov. Mike Dunleavy signing the formal proclamation calling the Legislature into a special...
Gov. Mike Dunleavy signing the formal proclamation calling the Legislature into a special session.(KTUU)
Published: Jul. 2, 2021 at 4:45 PM AKDT|Updated: Jul. 3, 2021 at 10:25 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Former Representative Les Gara knows what it’s like to be a foster kid.

“I know from growing up in foster care that you would rather be with your natural parents,” he said.

Now, he advocates for kids who are currently in the system. He says Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget vetoes of about $286,000 in funding from the Circles of Support grant program, along with $3.4 million from the Alaska Tribal Child Welfare Compact, would have a detrimental impact on foster youth and the system in general, Gara said.

“These funds are used to reunify youth with their natural families, provide families the counseling they needed or whatever help they needed,” said Gara. “With the loss of these funds, those youth are gonna remain in foster care (and) separated from their parents, and that’s traumatizing.”

Gara says nonprofit organizations like Alaska Youth and Family Network rely on funds from the Circles of Support grant, and that cutting from those funds would be harmful.

“The Anchorage nonprofit that receives these funds has succeeded at reunifying 80% of the foster youth referred to them with their families,” he said.

Angel Gonzales, president of Facing Foster Care in Alaska, agrees that cuts to foster care are not the answer. In a Friday written statement to Alaska’s News Source, she said:

“The Governor’s vetoes will leave more youth in foster care separated from their parents. He either doesn’t understand those funds reunite families, or doesn’t care. Either way, the veto is harmful and cruel.”

On Friday, Alaska’s News Source also reached out to Dunleavy’s office for a response to concerns regarding the vetoes. A spokesperson for the governor said in an email that, “No positions were ever on the chopping block for OCS and no reductions were made in areas impacting the foster care rates that support foster or adoptive parents.”

One position for the Office of Children’s Services was added in Wrangell, Deputy Press Secretary Corey Allen Young said via email. Young also pointed to other areas of the foster care system that he said the Dunleavy administration is supporting, such as a new grant program “to provide consistent family contact between parents and children,” a new telephone hotline for foster care parents, funding transportation for children in foster care to consistently get to school, and more.

Young said Dunleavy’s vetoes in this area “were to proposed increases in state spending, and not to any filled positions servicing our at-risk youth.”

Three-quarters of the House and Senate would need to vote together to overturn any of the governor’s vetoes.

Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify the intent of the governor’s vetos and what his administration is currently supporting.

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