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The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear a case involving a growing number of Kentucky relatives providing free foster care for children.

The result is that Kentucky must begin paying those relatives the same as they do licensed foster families, news outlets report.

The nation's high court on Tuesday refused to hear an appeal from the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. The cabinet was seeking to overturn a ruling earlier this year by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said the state must pay relatives who take in foster children.

The case revolved around a lawsuit filed by Lexington lawyer Richard Dawahare on behalf of a great-aunt who took in two young boys but was denied foster payments from the state.

"We have won, our clients have won and it's a big deal," Dawahare said. "Right now, the relatives are entitled and they need to make their claim."

A cabinet spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The news will be celebrated by many relatives across Kentucky caring for children but not eligible for daily payments even as licensed foster parents are paid a base rate of about $25 a day or $750 a month.

Among them is Kimberly Guffy of Russellville, Kentucky, who said she and her husband have been caring for two small grandchildren for more than three years with no foster care help from the cabinet.

"The days of the cabinet's reliance on relatives to balance its budget are over," she told The Courier-Journal.

Guffy said she didn't hesitate to take in the children, one a newborn and the other a 16-month-old, but it has been a struggle, especially for the first year when child care costs reached $10,000.

The cabinet has since agreed to assist with child care costs but refused foster payments. Social workers at one point told her that if the family couldn't afford to care for the children, they would be placed in a foster home.

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