'Zero Dollars'

CBS 2's Chris Tye reports once out of DCFS case, a person may have benefits awaiting them. But the state can take that money.

Video Transcript

- The state of Illinois is supposed to pay for the room board and care for kids in foster care. But every year, millions of dollars earmarked for kids with disabilities and deceased parents are taken by the state to pay for that care. CBS 2's Chris Tye is always investigating and first exposed this legal practice and how some want to ban it. Chris, you're now hearing from the very children who exit the system penniless.

CHRIS TYE: That's right. These are children who had these dollars earmarked for them from deceased parents say social security benefits that never paid out, or veteran's benefits, or disability benefit dollars for the children themselves, dollars that the state became managers of and then quickly reimbursed themselves with. She doesn't want us to show her face. But 21-year-old Latasia Aldridge wants us to share her story.

LATASIA ALDRIDGE: Very bad. A lot of sexual abuse from the ages of 4 to 13.

CHRIS TYE: That led to suicide attempts then seven years in the care of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Now 21, she's blind and out of that system. But over the years, the state became the payee, or money manager, for her vision disability benefits. Seven years worth totaled over $63,000. And how much of that is waiting for you as you exit the system?

LATASIA ALDRIDGE: There was nothing. There was nothing left.

CHRIS TYE: $0.

LATASIA ALDRIDGE: $0.

CHRIS TYE: A DCFS spokesperson tells us the SSI federal funds only cover a fraction of the cost of care, leaving no reserve funds. The balance of the cost of care is paid for with state funding.

DANNY DAVIS: Don't take it from these foster children.

CHRIS TYE: Congressman Danny Davis is working on legislation to make the state foot those costs and put those benefit dollars into a savings account for when they turn 21. What could you have done with that money?

LATASIA ALDRIDGE: Oh, a lot. You know, be able to get me a house.

CHRIS TYE: But the state uses her money and that of 3,244 others like her each year to reimburse itself, a legal practice that has saved taxpayers $74 million over the last five years. And while it may lessen the burden on taxpayers, it adds burden, Davis says, to the weakest among us.

DANNY DAVIS: It's been a long-standing practice. Doesn't mean that it's the correct practice.

CHRIS TYE: You feel like you are just a revenue generator for the state?

LATASIA ALDRIDGE: I really do. There is nothing in there for me.

CHRIS TYE: The state of Illinois has spent millions of dollars over the decades on private vendors to find these dollars associated with these children's accounts. Late today, we heard from DCFS, who says while it's possible that Latasia's case might have been $63,000 in benefits going to the state, the total cost of her care over seven years was nearly a half million dollars paid for by the state of Illinois. Live in the street side studio, Chris Tye, CBS 2 News.