Politics
3:35 pm
Mon April 25, 2011

Senator Caswell makes changes to controversial thrift store policy

A story by Michigan Radio’s Rina Miller about foster care expenditures went viral over the weekend, thanks to a post on Gawker. Gawker, it seems, caught wind of the story after the Michigan Messenger posted it.

The story deals with money that the state allocates to families to buy clothes for foster children.  

State Senator Bruce Caswell wanted to require foster families to purchase clothes at thrift stores like the Salvation Army and Goodwill.

From the original article:

Foster children in Michigan would use their state-funded clothing allowance only in thrift stores under a plan suggested by State Senator Bruce Caswell.

Caswell says he wants to make sure that state money set aside to buy clothes for foster children and kids of the working poor  is actually used for that purpose.

He says they should get "gift cards" to be used only at Salvation Army, Goodwill or other thrift stores.

"I never had anything new," Caswell says. "I got all the hand-me-downs. And my dad, he did a lot of shopping at the Salvation Army, and his comment was -- and quite frankly it's true -- once you're out of the store and you walk down the street, nobody knows where you bought your clothes."

The story originally aired on Friday, April 15. Since that time, we have received more than 270 comments - most people expressing their outrage over Caswell's proposal.

We received this comment from Sonja S. who says she was in foster care from ages 11-17:

Unfortunately, by demanding the money be spent in thrift stores, Mr. Caswell is doing emotional harm to the children. It doesn't matter what his motives are, the fact is that they're ill thought-out.

Senator Caswell said he received a lot calls after the story aired from people asking him to change his proposal.

Based on those calls, Caswell said he amended his original proposal to include "other retailers" - meaning foster families would be allowed to buy the clothes wherever they like:

"I actually don't care how the money is spent, I just want to make sure the money is used to buy clothes for the kids," Caswell told us.

Caswell updated his website with an announcement regarding  an amendment to his previous proposal on Monday, April 18, .

Here is an excerpt (find the complete announcement here):

Under the current system, DHS issues each year, on average, an additional $80 to a child’s parents’ Bridge Card for the clothing allowance.  However, once deposited on the card, the state has no way to ensure that parents actually spend the clothing allowance money on clothing for their child.

Senator Caswell initially proposed issuing a gift card for the clothing allowance for resale shops in order to ensure the money would actually go toward purchasing clothing. 

After a suggestion from a constituent, he plans to draft an amendment to the proposal that would direct the state to work with major retailers to create a gift card program that would ensure the clothing allowance money only purchases clothing and shoes at their stores.

Furthermore, the amendment will direct DHS to negotiate with the retailers for a discount on those clothing items purchased with the allowance in order to get the best deal for the recipients.

The amendments were made and passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee last Wednesday.

The measure is expected to be taken up in the full Senate either tomorrow or Wednesday.

- Brian Short, Michigan Radio Newsroom