As the coronavirus pandemic rages on across the country, Gov. Gavin Newsom has vetoed a bill that promised to protect young adults in California’s foster care system during future declared states of emergency, describing it as potentially imprudent and ineffective.
Senate Bill 912 aimed to expand upon protections passed in the state’s annual Budget Act, which ensured that 21-year-olds in the child welfare system could keep receiving housing help and cash assistance through June 2021.
The bill, vetoed Monday by the governor, sought to fold in young adults left out of the budget, and codify such protection, to be triggered anytime there is a state or countywide emergency declared.
But while Newsom made it a priority to protect foster youth early in the pandemic – issuing temporary protections via executive order – promising support for future crises was further than he was willing to go.
“Because disasters and pandemics vary and are difficult to predict, this bill would obligate the State to a specific approach that may not always be the most prudent or effective,” Newsom wrote to lawmakers in his veto message.
Newsom pointed out that more than $40 million was allocated in the budget to help make sure no foster youth age out of the system until next June.
But the budget allocation only applies to young adults who turn 21 on or after April 17, when Newsom issued an executive order in the spring. Twenty-one-year-olds whose birthdays fell between March 4, when the emergency order was declared, and the April 17 executive order will not receive any extra help to weather the COVID-19 storm.
According to staff in the office of state Sen. Jim Beall (D), who authored SB 912, 257 California foster youth will lose assistance – and potentially their only guaranteed lifeline. Those 257 Californians had extended foster care cases that were terminated when they aged out into a completely shut down economy during the early days of the pandemic.
“Emergencies are not the time to pull the rug out from under foster youth,” Beall told The Imprint in response to the governor’s veto. “We are responsible for these young adults and I’m sad to say, ‘we have neglected our duty.’”
This is a hard loss for Beall, a veteran lawmaker reaching term limits, who for a decade has worked to reform the state’s foster care system. He was a key architect behind bringing extended foster care to California, which serves adults raised in the foster care or juvenile justice systems from ages 18 through 21. Extended foster care provides assistance for housing and living expenses, as well as case management support. To qualify, young people must be in school or working, though they have been relieved of these program requirements during the pandemic.
When Beall initially introduced SB 912, weeks before the pandemic descended upon the country, he was proposing a pioneering idea: extending foster care services through age 25.
But in the ensuing months, the world overtook the bill’s lofty aims.
When COVID-19 upended daily life and ravaged budgets, Beall shifted the focus of SB 912 to deploy short-term protections during this current crisis and future states of emergencies.
“Foster youth shouldn’t be subject to political football if there’s an emergency,” Beall said late Monday.