If lawmakers don’t act quickly, on September 30th vital Federal Covid-19 protections for current and former young people in foster care will end. This could have dire impacts for young people like me, who are or have been in foster care. What’s in jeopardy is a current moratorium on youth aging out of foster care – a cohort of roughly 20,000 young people across the nation each year. Also at risk is emergency cash assistance that has been available since November 2020 but which thousands of aged-out foster youth have yet to receive.
We need Congress to pass legislation immediately that extends the protections included in last year’s “Supporting Foster Youth and Families Through the Pandemic Act.” And if it doesn’t, New York Governor Kathy Hochul needs to step in by extending the moratorium on aging-out and supporting New York youth with emergency funds.
Last year, young people across the country fought for this Federal support, which was included in Congress’s appropriations in 2021, but which are now scheduled to end at the Sept. 30th close of the current Federal fiscal year. It included new flexible funding to support current and former foster youth with direct cash assistance – funds which were provided to the states to be distributed through their child welfare systems. The law also included an emergency prohibition on youth aging-out – meaning being forced out of foster care when foster youth reach a certain maximum legal age, again set by each of the states.
Advocates and their allies in Congress recognized that the challenges often facing older youth leaving foster care – like homelessness, disconnection from school and employment, and lack of health care and social supports – have been made even worse by the pandemic. Letting young people stay in foster care longer and providing financial support to thousands of current and former foster youth has been essential to maintaining their housing and overall survival.
I work at iFoster in New York City, an organization that assists current and former foster youth with resources. I have seen many examples of how these Federal emergency funds can help young people, who constantly call iFoster, desperate for help. Many are experiencing very difficult times, and struggle to even have food, clothing, or the ability to pay for childcare, rent, and basic hygiene essentials. It’s very hard for youth, many of whom have no family members to rely on for help, to stay afloat with Covid impacting employment opportunities. It’s unfair that current and former foster youth have to look for these resources on their own. I know what it is to be a former foster youth. It is hard to hear young people call in, asking frantically for help for things like basic toiletries. How does any person deserve that?
The Covid-19 pandemic is not over. It impacts young people leaving foster care, whom the system has left severely unprepared for such a devastating crisis. Covid is something that was unexpected and has no expected end date. What will youth do? Foster youth are again the ones who are overlooked and left behind. Youth leaving foster care face homelessness, no resources, and a lack of case management and professional support. How are they expected to survive in such an unsure time?
The Federal law has been a lifeline. It helps young people with funds so that they can take control of their own lives and be self-sufficient. Every human being deserves that – and that includes many young people who still need assistance that remains in the child welfare system pipeline but hasn’t yet reached them. Pulling the rug out from under youth now by letting these protections run out would show how foster youth are constantly left to fend for themselves, and are always left to figure things out on their own.
We need our elected officials to extend the protections and resources that have helped so many young people keep their heads above water. That’s why I am calling on New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and my representative Congressman Ritchie Torres, to pass HR 5167, which would protect foster youth for another year. Think about all the obstacles that foster youth have faced and be the help they need!
Christina Young is a 25-year-old former foster youth. A graduate of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, she is now attending law school while also working fulltime at iFoster.
Photo by: vakids.org