House leadership on child welfare introduced two bills today that would increase funds for older foster youth and help states prevent teens and young adults in foster care from aging out of the system during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Pandemic Protection Act amends Title IV-E, an entitlement that sends billions to states for foster care costs, by temporarily removing the age ceiling on the program. For some child welfare systems that limit is 18, but most states have opted into extended foster care services that support youth up to age 21.
Four states – California, Illinois, Ohio and Rhode Island – as well as Washington, D.C., have already imposed a local moratorium on aging out of care, which even in stable times is associated with an increased likelihood of homelessness or incarceration. Child welfare advocates, including the Foster Care Alumni of America, have been pressing governors and Congress to help impose moratoriums in the other 46 states.
A separate, yet-to-be-titled bill introduced today addresses another call from advocates: adding $500 million to the Chafee Foster Care Independence Program. Of that, $340 million would go to independent-living programs, and $160 million would help buffer an education voucher program that provides up to $5,000 each year for tuition and other college costs for current and former foster youth.
That bill also adds $20 million to help foster youth access housing under the Family Unification Program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The House action came just days after the Trump administration announced its own set of temporary policy changes meant to give states more flexibility in supporting older foster youth. The Administration for Children and Families announced that states that had not yet tapped into federal funds for extending foster care to 21 could do so by filling out a simple form, and it temporarily dropped work and school requirements that are usually conditions for youth who choose to remain past age 18.
The administration has been supportive of calls to prevent aging out amid the pandemic, but in late March told The Chronicle of Social Change that it needed legislative authority to do so.
“No young person should age out,” said Jerry Milner, who heads the Children’s Bureau, at a virtual town hall held in April with current and former foster youth. “It’s an unacceptable outcome. And this crisis highlights the importance of that.”
The legislation was authored by the leadership of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, including Reps. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Don Bacon (R-Neb.) and Jim Langevin (D-R.I.).