As the pandemic drags on, young people from foster care are continuing to struggle with employment, school and housing instability. The pandemic relief provided by Congress for older youth from foster care has been making a huge difference in helping young people navigate these challenges, but unfortunately much of this help is set to expire at the end of September.
I know firsthand how helpful this relief can be as a young adult who exited foster care, living in Arizona and working as a peer mentor. When the pandemic struck, my employer had to reduce my work hours, which led to me having trouble paying rent. Plus, I needed my car to visit the young people on my caseload, and when it broke down, I was really stuck. The pandemic relief funds I received helped me purchase a new car, and I was also able to stabilize my housing and make ends meet.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, signed into law in December 2020, provided young people like myself with millions of dollars in emergency aid. This bill only passed with the support of young people. I was one of them. I emailed, sent letters and called on members of Congress. I’m at the table because I made the seat.
Unfortunately, several of its provisions are set to expire on September 30, 2021. If this happens, young people with lived experience in the child welfare system will continue to struggle through a pandemic that has wreaked havoc on their stability. Without support, young people nationwide face the stark reality that they may not be able to cover basic costs for education, housing, mental health and medical treatments, or buy food and other necessities.
Young people with lived experience in foster care must continue to take the lead and urge Congress to extend this life-saving assistance.
As a young adult from foster care in Texas shared with me recently, “If the emergency relief pandemic funds are not extended, what happens to the foster youth that desperately need financial support?” A fellow advocate said she knows many young people who are unable to pay their bills and are barely surviving. They are fearful that once the state-level eviction moratorium expires, they will be without homes. And although my friend is eligible for federal funds, she herself has not yet received any support due to state delays.
Texas is not the only state that has faced challenges in locating and informing young people of the aid, or creating a streamlined process to help young people apply for and receive it. Some states have recently made progress in addressing these challenges, but the clock is ticking in terms of getting the relief funds out the door. And, even more young people are now being identified as needing help.
I remain incredibly thankful for the support I received, but I also know that more is needed for countless others. A significant number of young people are accruing debt and are unable to pay their bills. Many young people who have been able to stay in foster care are being served notice that they aren’t allowed to stay past September 30, and aren’t sure where they will go.
That’s why I was so happy to hear that the co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth recently introduced a bipartisan Chafee Extension Bill (HR 5167). The bill would prevent young people from being evicted from foster care, extend all the flexibilities from the pandemic relief for current and former foster youth, and provide an additional $400 million of much-needed funds that would allow more youth to receive emergency resources. The new bill also ensures that the funds received will not count against other federal benefits.
The additional resources provided by this extension and increase would provide an essential lifeline to young people who were already navigating financial, educational, housing and other challenges before the global health pandemic began.
I hope people reading this do what they can to support efforts to get emergency relief to older youth from foster care as soon as possible. Congress should hear from us that too many young people from foster care don’t have anyone they can rely on, and we must ensure this pandemic lifeline is extended.