Foster youth may not have been able to shadow members of Congress in the nation’s capital as they usually do each year, but they got to hear directly from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D) about what’s on her mind, thanks to a Wednesday Zoom call organized by the National Foster Youth Institute.
“HEROES Act, HEROES Act, HEROES Act — we have to get to an agreement, but we’re not quite there,” Pelosi said of the $2.2 billion pandemic relief package that the House passed a month ago. For months, the Speaker has been leading negotiations with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to align on a version that would pass the Republican-controlled Senate, but it became clear this week that no deal would be reached before the election.
Speaking to dozens of youth hailing from at least 15 states, Pelosi indicated she will continue to hold out for a larger relief package.
“We don’t want a bill that doesn’t do what we need it to do,” she told the group of foster youth. “People ask, ‘Why not just take half a loaf?’ Well, that half a loaf is cutting off the poorest kids in America.”
The HEROES Act — the latest of several relief bills the House has passed as follow-ups to the CARES Act adopted in March — includes broader assistance for low-income families in addition to critical aid for state child welfare systems. For young children, it includes $57 billion for child care, $1.7 billion for Head Start and $100 million for home-visiting programs that serve new and expecting parents. For foster youth, the bill allocates an additional $350 million for independent living programs and $50 million for college vouchers, more than doubling the maximum individual award from $5,000 to $12,000.
In the 26 states that provide extended support to young people ages 18 to 21, the legislation would require they be allowed to remain in foster care beyond their 21st birthday during the pandemic. It would also allow those who recently aged out the option to return.
On the Wednesday call, Pelosi acknowledged that foster youth in their teens and early 20s are already vulnerable to homelessness — a major problem in her home district in San Francisco — and should not be cut off from support during the pandemic.
“As the cut-off, 18 years old is a real problem — it doesn’t make any sense,” she said, crediting Congresswoman Karen Bass (D), also of California, for drafting the legislation that would extend support for young adults. “We’ve got to lift that age, and prevent children from aging out of foster care.”
The HEROES act also boosts federal investment in services designed to keep children out of foster care. It offers full federal funding for kinship navigator programs during the pandemic, and, in the handful of states already approved for Title IV-E reimbursement for prevention services, also offers full federal funding for new family preservation services.
Furthermore, the legislation dedicates several billion dollars toward general housing stability and homelessness prevention, which can help keep families out of the child welfare system.
While Pelosi acknowledged that assistance is also needed for other sectors, including small businesses and the airline industry, she pledged that she would not accept a bill that prioritized business needs over those of foster youth.
“Those are our leverage, and these are our values,” she said. “We have no greater responsibility, especially during this pandemic, than to provide young people with the chance to stay healthy and reach their full potential.”