Bill Introduced to Expand Chafee Independent Living Eligibility to Age 23

States have always had discretion in determining the lower age threshold for use of their federal Chafee Foster Care Independence Program allocation. But the top age of eligibility for the program has always been 21.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) have introduced the Foster Youth Independence Act, which would not require, but would permit, certain states to raise the age of eligibility to 23 years old.

“States ought to be encouraged to continue their innovative practices to help foster youth become successful adults,” said Grassley, in a statement issued today. “The 20,000 kids who age out of the system each year need strong support to go to college, find a job, secure housing, manage their money and do everything else they’ll need to do well to succeed as adults.”

Grassley aide Liesel Crocker broke news of the bill this morning to a group of advocates and Capitol Hill staffers, who were attending a briefing about the housing struggles of youth aging out of foster care. The briefing featured several former foster youths who discussed the ways in which housing stability, or instability, made pursuing a career or education extremely difficult.

A state could only opt for the expansion if it has already expanded foster care until the age of 21 through the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, or if it can demonstrate it provides a comparable level of assistance to older youth without participation in that federal expansion.

About half of the states, and the District of Columbia, have opted into expanded foster care under Fostering Connections.

That caveat is a critical addition to the bill, because this bill makes no recommendation for increased funds to support the Chafee program. This caveat focuses the expanded eligibility on states where expanded care has already been offered to youth up to 21.

In a state that has not expanded its foster care system, a Chafee expansion to 23 would widen the eligibility pool without adding any additional resources to it, likely leaving administrators with the choice of supporting either fewer teens or fewer young adults.

The Chafee independent living program was created in 1999, and has been funded at $140 million since its beginning. An additional Chafee voucher program, aimed at providing former foster youth with college tuition assistance, is funded at $45 million.

The Chafee state allocations are made based on the percentage of U.S. foster youth living in each state, per the data collected through the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS).

Click here to read the bill.

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
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