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Boy Scouts to boost annual youth fees by 80%

David Crary
The Associated Press

NEW YORK – Facing a potentially ruinous wave of new sex-abuse lawsuits, the Boy Scouts of America is increasing its annual youth membership fee by more than 80%.

The group says the move, which has dismayed many of the Scouts’ adult volunteer leaders who warn the increase is prohibitively steep for some, is needed to meet rising operating costs, notably for the liability insurance that covers all official Scouting activities.

For years, the BSA has been entangled in costly litigation with plaintiffs who said they were abused by scout leaders in their youth. Hundreds of lawsuits may lie ahead with the recent enactment of laws in New York, New Jersey, Arizona and California making it easier for victims of long-ago abuse to seek damages.

The fee increase, disclosed to the Scouts’ regional councils last week, seeks to relieve some of the financial pressure. As of Jan. 1, the annual membership fee for 2.2. million youth members will rise from $33 to $60; the fee for adults will rise from $33 to $36, the Scouts said. The increases could generate more than $60 million in additional funds in the coming year.

The BSA says it’s exploring “all available options” to maintain its programs and has not ruled out the possibility of declaring bankruptcy.

As part of that process, the Scouts said they are consolidating their departments and recently eliminated more than 35 positions at its National Service Center.

The BSA’s current youth participation is down from more than 4 million in peak years of the past. It has tried to offset the decline by admitting girls, but the membership rolls will take a big hit as of Jan. 1, when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – for decades a major sponsor of Boy Scout units – cuts its ties with the BSA and launches its own global youth programs.

The BSA made no specific reference to the sex-abuse litigation but made clear the fee increase was driven by insurance costs.

“Unfortunately, the cost of liability insurance we must carry to cover all Scouting activities has increased dramatically over the past several months, and the organization is no longer able to offset the cost of insurance,” the BSA said.

In addition to insurance, the BSA said, membership fees cover other “essential services” such as background checks for adult leaders, program development and updated youth protection and safety training.

The national fees do not cover costs for uniforms and handbooks, which can easily exceed $100 per year.

Scores of the Scouts’ volunteer adult leaders weighed in on the fee increase in comments on a blog operated by the BSA’s Scouting Magazine. Several of the leaders warned that the increase would be financially burdensome for low-income families and might drive them away from scouting.

The BSA insists that the scouting remains a good value, compared with many other organized youth activities.

“While most extracurricular activities are seasonal, Scouting is a year-round program that remains one of the most valuable investments we can make to support young men and women,” the BSA announcement said.

The organization says it will strive to assist families who feel they cannot afford the higher fees. It announced creation of a fund, supported through donations, to provide financial assistance.