Lawmakers from several states have introduced a bipartisan bill that would extend and expand pandemic support for foster youth — and without it, thousands of children may be forced out of care in the coming weeks and months.
In 2019 alone, right before COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, more than 20,000 youth in the U.S. foster care system came of age without a permanent family, according to the Harvard Political Review.
Many of those transitioning out of foster care were severely impacted by the pandemic, which caused housing and employment loss, food insecurity, health care challenges, and all the implications of extreme isolation.
And now, amid the rise of the delta variant, the government’s critical pandemic financial support for foster youth is set to expire at the end of September.
The proposed Chafee Extension Bill would provide an additional $400 million in funds, which would extend all the flexibilities that allow more foster youth to receive emergency resources. It would also ensure that those resources aren’t counted against other federal benefits.
According to the non-profit group FosterClub, if the Chafee Extension Bill passes, young adults exiting out of the foster care system largely alone, and with little to no resources, could continue receiving the critical financial resources they need to survive.
FosterClub spokesperson Linda Morgan said the initial $400 million allocated last year has provided life-saving support to young people across the nation.
“When polled by FosterClub, many Independent Living Provider (ILP) coordinators confirmed how the funding provided necessities to young people who had no safe haven,” Morgan said. “According to an ILP coordinator in Illinois, in the last two months we have helped many youth with rent and utilities, but more importantly food, household items and clothing.”
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was signed into law in late 2020, included provisions related to foster care and Chafee programs for older youth, providing millions in emergency aid to young people during the pandemic.
The original bill, which is due to expire on September 30th, 2021, was designed to help young adults who have aged out of foster care without families, and provided funds for education, employment, housing, and support.
It also extended eligibility through age 26, waived education/work requirements, removed the 30 percent cap on room and board, increased education/training voucher amounts, placed a moratorium on aging out, and allowed $4,000/year per individual to cover transportation and driving costs.
“These kinds of services are essential for young people between the ages of 18 and 26 who, when polled, report significantly higher levels of unemployment, food and housing instability, lack of supportive care and higher education challenges,” Morgan explained. “If this bill is passed, many types of services and financial support can continue to be provided at this crucial time, helping to enable our young people so they can thrive.”
LGBTQ+ youth are overrepresented in child welfare systems, according to Youth.gov. In recent research on youth aging out of foster care, 34 percent reported a sexual orientation other than heterosexual. As the Trevor Project reports, LGBTQ+ youth who reported having been in foster care had three times greater odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year compared to those who had not.
Celeste Bodner, Executive Director of FosterClub, said extending the emergency funding provided by the original pandemic aid extension bill can literally mean the difference between life and death for older foster youth.
“With unclear complications arising around the emergence of Delta and other variants, young people coming out of foster care are still facing these same challenges today,” Bodner said. “Our poll results revealed the critical need for federal and state assistance during this transitional period, especially during a global crisis such as COVID-19.”
In 2020, FosterClub’s coordinated #UPChafee campaign featured the voices of current and former foster youth and raised awareness around the challenges brought by the pandemic.
In addition to virtual briefings before policymakers in Washington, DC, more than 3,000 dedicated young adults lit up social media with real-world stories about the hardships they faced. The #UPChafee campaign was also supported by more than 220 national, state and youth-led organizations. Today, Bodner said young people’s voices continue to be heard as they ask Congress to #ReUpChafee.
“An unexpected yet welcome outcome of this pandemic has been the conversations around how child welfare systems can think differently and more effectively about serving older youth,” Bodner added. “The proposed pandemic extended relief bill continues those efforts to build upon programs that have already done lots of good work for young people.”