Sixteen long, grueling months after the pandemic upended daily life in New York, young people who were in foster care after their 14th birthday can now apply to the state for one-time direct cash assistance.
For some youth, the federally funded awards for current and former foster youth ages 18 to 26 could be as little as $50, not much more than a few meals. Those living on $15,000 or less a year will receive $750.
The funds are now being distributed on a first-come, first served basis until the $13 million available runs out. Those eligible must apply through an online portal, report that they’ve been negatively impacted by the pandemic and submit one piece of identification.
Already, over 900 current and former foster youth have submitted applications for assistance, and the state Office of Children and Family Services said it expects to notify youth of their award amount within two weeks. For those ages 21 and older, the application deadline is Sept. 30, 2021; those 20 and younger have an additional year to apply, providing funds last. The payments can be received by check, debit card, direct deposit or through a digital app.
On a Thursday webinar attended by more than 400 people, Aysha Schomburg, Associate Commissioner of the Children’s Bureau and former official with the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, urged child welfare agencies and advocates to find disconnected youth eligible for the relief payments.
“There’s a whole universe of young people who may not be walking into our offices or our events, or may not be connected, who still really need these funds,” Schomburg said. “I’m glad that the country is kind of coming out of the pandemic, but former foster youth and foster youth are still in need, so we have to dig deep and go the distance to find them.”
In New York, some child welfare leaders celebrated the long-awaited cash assistance and expressed confidence in the state’s application and distribution system.
But groups including the Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition of New York expressed concern that the one-time cash assistance could wind up reducing young people’s eligibility for other forms of public assistance, such as food stamps or child care subsidies.
OCFS did not clarify the matter in response to questions from a reporter.
The first federal relief funds sent to states specifically for foster youth arrived in the second stimulus package in late December — $400 million in one-time pandemic relief added to the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, which is typically used for essential services like housing, education, technology, transportation and job training.
The funds were not released to states, however, until the end of February. The federal Children’s Bureau, in turn, did not release detailed instructions on how the additional funds could be spent until March 10.
The national advocacy group Think of Us has taken a lead on informing foster youth nationwide about the pandemic relief funds, spreading the word through its “Check for Us” portal. For some states, including California, the portal serves as the official front door of the application process. New York has established its own website where applicants can begin the process: https://chafeeny.smapply.org.
CEO Sixto Cancel, who grew up in foster care in Connecticut, highlighted the importance of even small amounts of cash assistance in Thursday's webinar with federal officials. He told the story of a young man named Calvin, who hadn’t been able to secure an apartment because he didn’t have enough for a security deposit, and ended up in the criminal justice system.
“This small type of money, whether it's $1,500 or $300 or $500, can help a young person bridge a gap to opportunity,” Cancel said. “When I think about Calvin, I think about not just that we failed him when he was in the system, but then we had an opportunity to make it right and to get him some support in that very moment, and we missed the mark.”