Kerry, Murray Introduce Bill to Address Youth Homelessness

Worthy of mention here… Today, Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) introduced the Reconnecting Youth to Prevent Homelessness Act, to give more support to foster families, foster children, and young adults transitioning from the foster care system into adulthood. Right now, one-fifth of foster children wind up being homeless adults.

The bill would provide solutions for child welfare, temporary family assistance, and work opportunity credits. The Reconnecting Youth to Prevent Homelessness Act (H.R. 4208) is sponsored in the House by Shelley Berkley (NV-01) and has received an enthusiastic endorsement from a leading foster care advocate, the National Network for Youth.

“Every child deserves a chance to succeed in a healthy, safe environment, no matter where they grow up or who raises them,” said Senator Kerry. “This bill would help every child and young adult get a fair shot at a promising future. The status quo leaves vulnerable children behind and that is absolutely unacceptable in the United States of America.”

“This bill extends a helping hand to those who have no adult to count on,” said Senator Murray. “While every homeless American deserves our respect and support, we need to pay close attention to homeless youths so that we break the viscous cycle that disconnects them from the help they need. By improving stability, targeting older youths, and making it easier to get work, this bill provides a lifeline for our most vulnerable to latch on.”

“Up to three million youth annually experience homelessness in our nation,” said Victoria A. Wagner, CEO of the National Network for Youth. “Some groups of young people are at heightened risk of homelessness, among them youth involved in the child welfare system, youth who are pregnant or parenting, and youth who are unemployed. Senator Kerry’s legislation will improve the prospects of homeless and other disconnected youth overcoming great odds and reaching independent and productive adulthoods. We look forward to working with him to assure passage of his transformative bill.”

Summary of the Reconnecting Youth to Prevent Homelessness Act Provisions:

Child Welfare

· Requires the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on state policies and practices with regard to access of unaccompanied youth and older youth to child protective services and to foster care and adoption assistance.

· Prohibits states from enacting policies or practices to place a family within the child welfare system on the sole basis that the family is experiencing homelessness or living in substandard housing.

· Expands eligibility for foster care and adoption assistance to youth through age 20.

· Requires states, as a condition of receiving foster care maintenance payments, to have established and functioning policies and procedures designed to reduce children and youth in their custody from running from their placement.

· Requires states, as a condition of receiving foster care maintenance payments, to have established and functioning policies and procedures designed to ensure that children and youth in their custody are discharged in such a manner that ensures the child or youth is placed in stable and appropriate housing.

· Requires case plans to include documentation of the steps the state is taking to find a permanent placement for foster care youth with a family or other adult connection for the youth, and a placement in permanent housing.

· Requires judicial review of the final permanency plans for children and youth leaving foster care.

· Increases authorization level of the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program to $200 million annual in mandatory funding.

· Expands eligibility for Chafee services to child welfare youth under the age of 25.

· Expands eligibility for Chafee room and board to child welfare youth under the age of 25.

· Expands eligibility for Chafee education and training vouchers to child welfare youth under the age of 25.

· Ensures equal opportunity for private service providers to receive Chafee funds to provide services to transitioning foster care youth.

· Adds to the evaluation requirement of Chafee a requirement to evaluate use of room and board services and how they improve housing outcomes for youth.

· Ensures that the Secretary and states inform Chafee of supports and services available through other federal, state, and local agencies.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

· Requires the identification of the extent and strategies to address the unmet service and living arrangement needs of teen parents in state TANF plans.

· Requires states to establish a “transitional compliance period,” whereby income-eligible minor parents who at the time of application are having trouble meeting the complex rules and eligibility conditions related to education and living arrangements (such as school dropouts and homeless youth) of the TANF program are nevertheless allowed to receive assistance on the condition that they comply with the minor parent rules within an established period after enrollment.

· Establishes sanctions protections procedures that help teen parents understand, avoid, and/or end sanctions.

· Ensures the appropriate provision of alternative living arrangements for minor parents unable to live at home.

· Ensures that states consult with minor parents about their preferred living arrangement.

· Identifies transitional living youth projects for older homeless youth funded through the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) as a type of alternative living arrangement.

· Permits the minor parent to appeal the state’s decision of alternative living arrangement if it differs from the minor parent’s preference.

· Commences the lifetime limit on TANF assistance for teen parents completing their education and training programs when they turn age 20, rather than when they turn age 19, in order to allow these older youth to complete their education/training without the lifetime limit clock ticking.

· Requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to conduct studies of: teen parents receiving TANF assistance and to identify state and community best practices related to teen parent enrollment and tracking; teen parents not receiving TANF assistance to identify reasons for non-participation and to measure indicators of family well-being; the effects of paternity establishment policies; and, the nature, extent, and impact of sanctions imposed on parents who have not attained age 20.

Work Opportunity Credit

· Adds homeless youth as a target group for eligibility for the Work Opportunity Credit.

· Defines “homeless youth” for purposes of WOTC as being an individual not less than age 16 and not more than age 24 and otherwise having the same meaning as “homeless child and youth” under federal education law.

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