States will have a lot of latitude on how to spend their share of the $400 million in assistance for older foster youth, which passed as part of the massive COVID-19 relief bill in December. But on a virtual town hall today with hundreds of foster youth and other child welfare stakeholders, federal officials made clear that states should consider direct stimulus checks.
“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.”
Johnson noted that many young people in the foster care system, or who had just aged out of it, do not qualify for the other forms of direct relief available.
That sentiment was echoed by Sixto Cancel, CEO of Think of Us, the organization that arranged the session.
“Sometimes we just need to cut the check to stop the bleeding,” said Cancel, in an email. “Ask and trust young people.”
The funds are the biggest child welfare piece of the coronavirus package and will go out to states as part of the John H. Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood, which focuses on independent living programs for older or foster youth and postsecondary assistance with tuition and living expenses. But the $400 million boost will come with fewer strings than the traditional annual Chafee allocations to states, and can be used to help former foster youth up to the age of 27.
Johnson and Jerry Milner, associate commissioner of the Children’s Bureau, said during the town hall that there have already been discussions with state child welfare leaders to stress the flexible nature of the funding, which takes effect in April and can be drawn back by the feds in September if it is not used.
“My biggest fear is that the money might not get spent in time,” Cancel said on the town hall. “As long as a young person is hungry, or not stably housed, no money should go back.”
To Youth Services Insider’s knowledge, only one state thus far has cut direct cash: New Jersey, which used $2.2 million of its earlier coronavirus federal funds for $1,850 checks to foster youth ages 18 to 23.
Milner said that he planned to use questions and feedback from attendees at the town hall to help inform the guidance his agency put out to states about the coronavirus Chafee funds.
“This legislation doesn’t cover all the concerns, but it does provide quite a bit of relief,” Milner said.