The much-anticipated relief fund to help current and former foster youth amid the COVID-19 pandemic has gone out to state agencies, which will receive a proportionate share of the $400 million approved by Congress as part of the deal signed by former President Donald Trump in December.
The funds were appropriated through the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, which helps states pay for independent living services and college assistance through educational training vouchers. The annual appropriation for Chafee is just south of $200 million, and these funds were added largely in the hopes of providing stimulus cash to some of America’s most vulnerable teens and young adults.
The Chafee boost is the biggest child welfare piece of the last coronavirus relief package. Other provisions include requiring states to allow foster youth approaching the age of emancipation to remain in care if they choose during the pandemic and flexibility around kinship supports and family preservation.
The money went out to states late on Monday, and the awards ranged from $464,000 for Delaware to $41.3 million for California, with several smaller grants made to Native American tribes and U.S. territories. Click here to see the full list of state-by-state allocations.
The early release of the funds, which are approved for use only between April and September, is surely a relief to advocates for older foster youth who worried that the process might drag on with a change in administration. The Biden administration has not yet issued final guidance for states on these coronavirus provisions – Youth Services Insider hears credibly that it was ready before inauguration, but is held up as a new team is assembled at the U.S. Children’s Bureau.
Direct cash support to youth and trust funds for them are allowable uses under the regular rules of the program, and it is expected that the guidance will make clear that the supplemental can also be used in this fashion. In a virtual town hall held with current and former foster youth in January, Trump child welfare officials stressed that this was the best way for states to use it.
“We have heard how on the margins many of you were forced to live … it’s not OK,” said Lynn Johnson, head of the Administration for Children and Families, the agency within the Department of Health and Human Services that oversees child welfare funding and policy. “Many youth need cash assistance.”
New Jersey was the first state to issue direct stimulus checks to current and former foster youth, from its CARES Act relief funds over the summer, and Minneapolis has also conducted a cash support program.
One aspect of this process YSI will have its eye on is whether states make a concerted effort to find young adults who experienced foster care years ago and are struggling during this national emergency. The age limit on Chafee has been temporarily raised to 27; that’s not a huge jump for the voucher program, which is usually 26, but the independent living account cuts off eligibility at 23. So this expansion includes a large group of eligible young adults with whom most state child welfare agencies have no experience maintaining contact.
“Finding young people 23-27 is possible,” said Sixto Cancel, CEO of Think of Us, a nonprofit that works to inform child welfare reform with the voices of people who were involved in the system. “We heard from over 27,375 in three weeks and what was key was leveraging technology, partnerships with community organizations but most important it was activating current and former foster youth who were not typically engaged in the advocacy efforts.”
The Chafee supplemental includes $344 million of the supplemental going to independent living, and $50 million to educational training vouchers, with $6 million set aside for training and technical assistance.