An association of nonprofit service groups has sued the state government in federal court in San Francisco to challenge a planned 10-percent cut in payments to group homes for foster children.

The lawsuit was filed Friday by the California Alliance of Child and Family Services, which represents nonprofit groups that provide 87 group homes for up to 3,720 abused and neglected children statewide.

The lawsuit is one of several filed in various courts in recent weeks to challenge cuts made in the state budget in response to California’s fiscal crisis.

It claims that a 10-percent cut in already-low reimbursement rates to group homes for foster children would violate federal law and would “irreparably harm the Alliance’s members and the children for whom they care.”

The cut was enacted by the state Legislature and is due to go into effect on Oct. 1.

The lawsuit claims the reduction would violate the U.S. Child Welfare Act, which requires states to make adequate “foster care maintenance payments” for basic items such as food and shelter as a condition of receiving some federal funding.

William Abrams, a lawyer for the alliance, said the group is hoping to hear from the court this week on a date for a hearing on its bid for a temporary restraining order to block the cut from going into effect.

Alliance Executive Director Carroll Schroeder said, “With this cut, the amount built into group home rates for entry level child care counselor wages will be $7.44 an hour, 56 cents below California’s minimum wage.”

Schroeder said, “Agencies will be forced to choose between seriously downsizing, closing their programs entirely, or providing substandard care for their kids.”

The defendants in the lawsuit are John Wagner, director of the state Department of Social Services, and Gregory Rose, deputy director in charge of department’s Children and Family Services Division.

A spokeswoman for the agency was not available for comment today.

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