Congressional Bill Would Expand Access to Housing Vouchers for Youth Leaving Foster system

December 5, 2019by Rick Rouan

Young people facing homelessness as they age out of the foster care system soon could have easier access to federal housing vouchers.

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, is joining with Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican, to propose legislation they say would alter the Family Unification Program to help prevent homelessness for youth aging out of the foster care system.

The bill already passed the House last month with bipartisan support.

“We know that housing is everything. It’s a foundation for opportunity. Without safe, clean affordable housing it’s darn near impossible to hold down a job or pursue a degree or build a life for yourself,” Brown said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

Under the current program, foster youth have to live in the jurisdiction of a public housing agency that already has been awarded vouchers under the Family Unification Program. But only about 300 out of the country’s 4,000 public housing agencies receive the vouchers.

The legislation would allow any public housing agency to request a voucher from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for a foster youth who is preparing to leave the system. Public housing agencies would be required to work with Public Child Welfare Agencies to identify eligible recipients as well.

It also would extend the vouchers, which are available for three years those leaving the foster care system, for up to two additional years if they are pursuing self-sufficiency programs, workforce training or a degree or post-secondary credential.

Families and individual youth already are eligible for the vouchers, which are used to lease private housing. Vouchers for families are not time limited.

Youth leaving the foster care system are eligible if they are homeless or at risk of homelessness and are between the ages of 18 and 24 years old. To be eligible, individuals must have left foster care at age 16 or older or have plans to leave foster care within 90 days.

Congress appropriated $20 million for the vouchers in 2019, according to the Congressional Budget Office. But more funding likely would be needed in a future appropriations bill to account for the expanded eligibility.

“What we see now is that these young people if they don’t have stable housing when they’re aging out is that the trauma increases because they experience homeless time,” said Amanda Leclerc, housing director at Huckleberry House, a social services organization in Columbus, Ohio. “There needs to be more available to them.”

Brown said he and Grassley are trying to rally more bipartisan support to get the bill through the Senate and, ultimately, to President Donald Trump’s desk. But that will require persuading Senate leadership and Trump to spend on the program, he said.

“This is one we’re more hopeful about in the Senate because we have been very careful to get Republican cosponsors,” he said.

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©2019 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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