DeSantis signs bill increasing payments to caregivers of foster children

Saying that foster children in Florida "deserve an opportunity," Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday signed a bill that will increase payments to caregivers and provide foster parents with money for child-care programs.

The measure (SB 7034) was approved by lawmakers during the legislative session that ended March 14.

In part, the law will increase monthly payments from the state to relatives and non-relatives who serve as caregivers to foster children, making their payment rates on par with licensed foster parents.

"Placement with relatives, or kinship care, provides permanency for children and helps maintain family connections," the Florida Senate said in a news release Tuesday, adding that "kinship care" can involve placing children with people such as close family friends or godparents.

RELATED: New Florida law funds pro-fatherhood programs such as Tony Dungy's 'All Pro Dad'

Foster care legislation has been a priority of Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican who was adopted. Simpson said that raising payments could be a deciding factor for people who are considering bringing foster children into their homes.

"Improving the level of benefits for family members and foster parents could mean all the difference when these folks are considering whether they can take in a vulnerable child," Simpson said in a statement.

More than $44 million is earmarked in the proposed state budget for the 2022-2023 fiscal year to carry out parts of the bill. The Legislature has not formally sent the budget to DeSantis for his approval and vetoes.

DeSantis touted nearly $25 million of the money that is designed to provide $200 monthly subsidies to help cover costs of child care and early learning programs.

"Through this funding, more than 7,000 foster parents and caregivers will receive this subsidy for the children that are in their care. And that’s going to make a big difference. Quite frankly, just from a feasibility perspective, foster parents have to work to put food on the table like anyone else. This will help them in that regard," the governor said.

RELATED: LGBTQ advocates sue state of Florida, DeSantis over law on gender identity, sexual orientation in education

The law also will bolster tuition and fee-waiver programs to help foster children attend state colleges, universities and workforce-education programs. The governor signed the bill at Miami Dade College.

Department of Children and Families Secretary Shevaun Harris said the law expands Florida’s "toolbox of resources" to help young adults who are exiting the foster care system.

"For many of the kids in the system, attending and graduating college is defying the odds. Legislation like this helps us stack the deck in their favor," Harris said.

The number of licensed foster parents in Florida has grown by about 4,000 since 2019, the governor said Tuesday.