The Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act of 2016 (HOTMA), signed into law by President Obama on July 29th, includes several reforms of federal rental assistance, such as expanding the family unification program for children leaving and aging out of foster care.
In the latest year for which data are available, 238,000 youth exited foster care during fiscal year (FY) 2014. Of these exiting youth, 121,000 were reunified with parent(s) or primary caretakers, 15,000 were living with other relatives, 49,000 were adopted, 22,000 were emancipated, 21,000 were in guardianship, 4,000 were transferred to another agency, 1,000 were runaways, and 300 died. Of the exiting youth, 18,300 exited at age 18, 5,100 exited at age 19, and 900 exited at age 20.
Many youth exiting foster care do not have the opportunity or ability to complete their high school education. For example, National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) Surveys of foster care youth and former foster care youth found that fewer 19-year-olds not still in foster care (54%) reported receiving a high school diploma or GED compared to those still in foster care (60%) and fewer 19-year-olds not still in foster care were attending school (47%) compared to 19-year-olds still in foster care (70%). Similarly, only 71% of homeless and unstably housed youth who had foster care experience had received a high school diploma or GED and only 18% were currently in school in Houston, Texas.
Many youth exiting foster care also do not have the opportunity to receive employment-related skills training and are not employed. For example, NYTD Surveys of 19-year-old youth who had been in foster care and youth who were still in foster care found that 29% of 19-year-old former foster care youth were receiving employment-related skills training compared to 33% of those still in foster care. Also, only 13% of 19-year-olds who had been in foster care were employed full-time and only 22% of 19-year-olds who had been in foster care were employed part-time.
To assist more youth leaving or aging out of the foster care system, Congress expanded eligibility of youth for the family unification program, which provides a housing choice voucher for eligible families and youth, in three ways in HOTMA.
First, Congress increased the amount of time that youth who have left foster care at age 16 or older can participate in the family unification program from 18 months to 36 months. This will allow former foster care youth additional time to complete high school and obtain employment training, employment, and/or complete at least some college.
Second, Congress increased the maximum age of eligibility for youth who have left foster care at age 16 or older from 21 to 24 years of age. This will allow youth who remain in foster care until the age of 21 the ability to receive assistance through the family unification program and a better opportunity to complete more employment training, employment experience, and/or education and be less likely to experience homelessness.
Third, Congress expanded eligibility to include the already eligible youth who have left foster care at age 16 or older and now also to include youth who will leave foster care within 90 days in accordance with a transition plan and are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The expansion of eligibility to youth who are still in foster care but who are at risk of becoming homeless will allow these youth the opportunity to obtain assistance through the family unification program before becoming homeless and facing its attendant risks.
In addition, HOTMA requires the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to issue guidance within six months to improve coordination between public housing authorities and child welfare agencies to carry out the family unification program with specific guidance on identifying eligible recipients for assistance, coordinating with other local youth and family providers in the community, implementing housing strategies to assist eligible families and youth, aligning system goals to improve outcomes for family and youth and reducing lapses in housing for families and youth, and identifying resources available to eligible families and youth for supportive services.
These provisions expand eligibility of youth leaving or aging out of foster care as unambiguously asserted in the committee report and legislator floor statements and in the committee reports for the FY2016 and FY2017 appropriations bill that contain similar language and nowhere in the text, committee reports, or legislator floor statements is there any clear indication that they limit eligibility of youth. In fact, the House Committee Report notes that the Congressional Budget Office estimated the cost of implementing section 110 of HOTMA based on the family unification program serving the same proportion of eligible adults ages 22 to 24 as the percent of eligible adults it served last year.
Although expanding eligibility of youth leaving foster care for the family unification program is expected to increase access to FUP vouchers, Congress should increase funding for the family unification program to allow ALL, not just some, youth leaving or aging out of foster care and are homeless access to housing through the family unification program.
As noted earlier, the cost of implementing HOTMA’s expansion of the family unification program of approximately $5 million to $6 million per year and $24 million total over the five-year period of FY2017 through FY2021 was based on serving the same proportion (0.4%) of eligible adults that were assisted in 2015. Yet, data from the NYTD and from surveys of homeless and unstably housed youth at eleven geographic diverse locations throughout the country indicate that a much larger percent of youth who have left foster care or aged out of foster care have experienced homelessness and that larger percentages of homeless youth cited they were in foster care immediately before they became homeless and that leaving or aging out of foster care was the cause of their homelessness.
The Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families noted that 24% of 19-year-old youth surveyed in FY 2013 who had been in foster care at age 17 and had left or aged out of foster care reported having been homeless at some point within the past two years. Also, one-third of the 1,260 youth who reported a history of homelessness when they completed the survey at age 17 and were in foster care and who also completed the survey at age 19 reported experiencing another episode of homelessness in the past two years.
As the table shows, between 26% and 72% of 2,361 homeless and unstably housed youth surveyed at eleven locations have experienced foster care including 25% and 38% at the two locations where all of the surveyed youth were homeless. Also, 15% and 22% at two locations aged out of foster care. In the location where 22% of surveyed youth had aged out of the foster care system, 15% went to a shelter and 8% went to the streets when asked where they went when they aged out of foster care. Also, in this location, half of the 105 surveyed youth who had foster care experience were homeless in shelters and 35% were unsheltered homeless and only 15% had unstable housing. At the two locations where all of the surveyed youth were homeless, 5% and 16% were in foster care immediately before they became homeless and 2% and 5% listed aging out of foster care as the primary cause of their homelessness. Of the homeless youth surveyed who had foster care experience in these two locations, approximately 7% and 13% reported aging out of foster care as the primary cause of their homelessness and approximately 21% and 40% reported they were in foster care immediately before becoming homeless.
This information suggests that the family unification program should provide housing for more than 0.4% of youth leaving or aging out of foster care and Congress should provide more funding for foster care and permanency and the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program (CFCIP) to assist youth in making the transition from foster care to self-sufficiency so that states can provide room & board financial assistance and other services to more youth leaving or aging out of foster care.
According to the most recent survey, although the family unification program had about 20,700 housing vouchers for families and youth, only 2,912 were used by youth who were leasing a unit with FUP rental assistance in the fall of 2012. In FY2017, HUD has proposed $110 million total for tenant protection vouchers, which include vouchers for the family unification program, which is a decrease of $20 million from the FY 2016 enacted level of $130 million. The Senate bill reported to the Senate and the Senate bill approved by the Senate provide the HUD-requested amount of $110 million for tenant protection vouchers and an additional $20 million for new FUP vouchers, which would restore the funding appropriate for tenant protection vouchers. The Senate Committee Report directs HUD to prioritieze the award of the $20 million for new FUP vouchers to PHAs that will target them to youth and PHAs that have partnered with their local public child welfare agency to ensure youth referrals of these vouchers because a May 2014 report found that youth only comprise about 14% of the total program participants. The House bill provides $110 million for tenant protection vouchers, which is $20 million below the FY2016 enacted level. Congress should appropriate $130 million for tenant protection vouchers to maintain the level from last year and appropriate an additional $20 million for FUP vouchers targeted for youth leaving or aging out of foster care so that no youth leaving or aging out of foster care remains or becomes homeless.
In its budget request for FY2017, in addition to the $2.3 billion in advanced appropriations in the FY2016 enacted bill, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requested $5.764 billion for payments for foster care and permanency, including $4.992 billion for foster care, $2.780 billion for adoption assistance, $152 million for the guardianship assistance program, and $140 million for the Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, which is the same level as the FY2016 enacted level, requested an additional $4 million for the CFCIP to evaluate how to best serve older youth in the child welfare system, and proposed that Congress allow the redistribution of any unobligated Chafee formula grant funds available at the end of the two-year expenditure period to jurisdictions that indicate an interest in receiving the funds. HHS also proposed to allow title IV-E agencies that have extended foster care to age 21 to use existing CFCIP funds to serve young people formerly in foster care through age 23 to prevent an abrupt end to services when children age out of foster care in those states. Both the Senate bill and the House bill provide $5.764 billion for payments for foster care and permanency with the requested levels of $4.992 billion for foster care, $2.780 billion for adoption assistance, and 152 million for the guardianship assistance program and $140 million, excluding the $4 million additionally requested, for the CFCIP allocated in the Senate Committee Report and the House Committee Report. The proposed level of funding for the CFCIP is the same level of funding as in FY2013 when approximately 100,000 youth received services to aid in transition from foster care to adulthood and only about 15% of these youth received room and board financial assistance, in particular. Congress should increase funding for foster care, adoption assistance, kinship guardianship assistance, and the CFCIP so that no youth leaving or aging out of foster care remains or becomes homeless.
With hundreds of thousands of youth leaving foster care each year and approximately 25,000 aging out of foster care each year and approximately one-quarter in foster care at age 17 who left or aged out of foster care experiencing homelessness in the next two years, Congress should provide more funding so that more than 3,000 youth who leave or age out of foster care can obtain housing through the family unification program and so that more than 15,000 foster care and former foster care youth can receive housing assistance through the Chafee Foster Care Independence Program.