Congressional legislators are considering a bill that would double pandemic assistance to older and former foster youth, while also extending the time states could use those funds, as the existing deadline for the program fast approaches.
A discussion draft produced by U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) would raise the amount of pandemic assistance for current and former foster youth between the ages of 18 and 27 from $400 million to $800 million. His bill would also allow any young adult in that age range to receive support under the program until Sept. 30 of 2022.
Under the current rules for this assistance, the clock stops at the end of this month for support going to former foster youth between age 21 and 27. And many states have only just begun to start spending the money.
Langevin’s draft bill would also extend the moratorium on “aging out,” which occurs when a young person exits foster care straight into adulthood. While some states have their own moratoria that expire later in the year, the federal halt on aging out ends Sept. 30.
“There is a growing concern that current and former foster youth — who have disproportionately faced higher rates of unemployment, housing instability, and disrupted education throughout the pandemic — could be among the last Americans to fully recover from COVID-19,” said Langevin, co-chair of the Congressional Foster Youth Caucus, in an email to Youth Services Insider.
Extending the timelines and increasing the amount of spending “will provide direct assistance to current and former foster youth to mitigate some of the worst impacts of the pandemic and help foster youth get back up on their own two feet,” he said.
The $400 million in federal support was approved as part of the COVID-19 stimulus package signed by former President Donald Trump in late December of 2020. It was added onto the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, which annually provides federal funds to help states support transition-age youth who have experienced foster care.
The pandemic funds were released to states in February, and that was followed by guidelines from the U.S. Children’s Bureau on the use of the money in early March.
While there are several allowable options states have for using the money to support current and former foster youth, officials from both the Trump and Biden administrations urged systems to use some or all of it to provide direct cash assistance.
“We have heard how on the margins many of you were forced to live … it’s not OK,” said Lynn Johnson, Trump’s head of the Administration for Children and Families, in early January. “Many youth need cash assistance.”
Most states are using at least some of their funds to cut checks directly to young people, some using flat amounts and others using a needs-based approach. But the process to alert eligible people — including those in their mid-20s who have been out of foster care for five years — did not begin in most states until summer.
Now, the Sept. 30 deadline to help those young adults has many advocates for foster youth worried that thousands of eligible people could miss out.
“A lot of our members have not been aware of the funding and some who have signed up for help have not received anything,” said Mariah Craven, a spokesperson for the National Foster Youth Institute.
When California announced its direct assistance program in June, it projected more than 30,000 recipients. As of this week, with the state deadline to apply just days away, less than 10,000 have been verified to receive the money, and far fewer have actually gotten it already.
In Michigan, the legislature has been slow to act on approving the use of that state’s $10.2 million in federal COVID-19 Chafee assistance. The administration of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) announced that the state will use $500,000 in already authorized Chafee funds to start getting checks out, and has urged youth to fill out an eligibility survey to get in the queue for if and when the legislature approves more direct assistance.
The looming end to the moratorium on aging out is also worrisome. The provision, which permits foster youth to remain in the system past the age of 21, was meant to maintain housing stability at a time when no vaccines had been approved, and the spread of coronavirus was at its peak in some states.
While vaccines are readily available now, the Delta variant continues to spread quickly through the United States, and federal protections against evictions have ended. Cutting off the financial support of foster care at the end of September could force vulnerable young adults to find new places to live during an ongoing health emergency with no financial assistance.
Langevin joined four other House colleagues — Reps. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), Don Bacon (R-Neb.) and Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) — in a letter this week sent to governors, urging them to get the pandemic assistance out to current and former foster youth.
The Chafee assistance “may be the only pandemic-specific relief foster youth receive,” the letter said. “Considering the impact of the pandemic on current and former foster youth, this aid must be distributed as quickly as possible.”