Signed into law this week by Governor Newsom, the 2020-21 California state budget includes important new protections and supports for transition-age foster youth. In the midst of crisis, the state is addressing immediate needs of young people in extended foster care while also laying the groundwork for continued improvements in capacity and services for programs like My First Place™.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges, and the situation appears poised to continue for some time. For young people in the transition from foster care to independence, the pandemic has threatened their already fragile sense of stability. With schools going remote, unemployment surging, and social connection limited by social distancing, the support services that foster youth rely on have become more important than ever.

At the same time, the broad economic impacts of COVID-19 have required California reexamine its revenue projections and work to maintain a balanced budget while maximizing support to those most affected.  We are doubly thankful, then, that the legislature and the governor have worked together to pass a budget that includes an expansion of extended foster care eligibility and a THP-NMD Housing Supplement.

ENSURING ONGOING ACCESS TO RESOURCES FOR YOUTH IN CARE

Under normal circumstances, California’s extended foster care system allows young people to receive housing and support services through their 21st birthday. The three-year “runway” from 18 to 21 gives youth the opportunity to build skills for independent living and establish a baseline of stability that they can maintain long-term.

In April, as California responded to the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis, it became clear almost immediately that forcing young people to “age out” of extended foster care in the midst of a global health and economic crisis would have disastrous outcomes. In response to calls from advocates across the state, Governor Newsom declared a temporary extension of foster care eligibility beyond age 21. Effective through June 30, 2020, this extension ensured that young people could be secure in their housing and continue to benefit from the practical and emotional supports available to them.

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of My First Place youth who had jobs in March have experienced furloughs, layoffs, or reduced hours due to COVID-19.

While this measure was a welcome first step, First Place and other providers and advocates recognized full economic recovery from the ongoing public health emergency as a long-term proposition. Unwilling to see our young people cut off from necessary services in an ongoing crisis, we joined the call for a further extension. We are deeply grateful to Senator Jim Beall of San Jose for taking up the cause and proposing the state suspend “age out” exits from care for a full year.

Under the final budget agreement, young people currently in extended foster care may remain in care through June 30, 2021, “without regard to their age or the length of time they have received services, with $29 million in state funding available to cover the costs of ongoing services. The eligibility extension also includes a temporary suspension of work and school requirements for youth who face disruption of education or employment due to COVID-19. To provide maximum flexibility in supporting current and former foster youth, the state has also granted counties the option to continue THP-Plus services to former foster youth who would otherwise “age out” at 24 during this same one-year period. This option comes without additional state funding and decisions regarding its implementation will be made on a county-by-county basis.

We remain hopeful that these eligibility extensions will see young people through to a recovering economy in which they can step into independence already on the path to self-sustaining careers. In the meantime, we will continue supporting our program participants as they work toward their goals and build foundations for long-term success.

IMPROVING ACCESS TO THP-NMD EXTENDED FOSTER CARE PROGRAMS

As we previously shared, extended foster care services provided through Transitional Housing Placements for Non-Minor Dependents (THP-NMD)—like My First Place—are powerful tools for preventing foster youth homelessness and providing young people with the opportunities and resources necessary to achieve their goals. But funding shortfalls linked to rising costs of housing have prevented programs like ours from expanding to meet existing need and have forced some to divert an increasing amount of private funding to cover housing costs. This has left many young people eligible for services to the limbo of waiting lists and impacted the support programs were able to provide.

These effects of the funding gap have been most acutely felt in the areas where need is already the greatest, particularly Los Angeles and the Bay Area. And the COVID-19 crisis only added to the urgency, as THP-NMD providers saw increasing requests for services from youth who’d been made homeless or were facing imminent homelessness due to loss of employment.

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young people eligible for THP-NMP services were on waiting lists as of June 30, 2019

Recognizing the need to address foster youth homelessness, Assemblymember Phil Ting sponsored legislation for a $4 million THP-NMD Housing Supplement that would help close the gap between current funding levels and actual costs. He continued to champion the measure as the effects of COVID-19 became clear, and with his ongoing support and the support of a broad network of providers and advocates, we are thrilled to announce that the THP-NMD Housing Supplement has become a reality!

Under the newly passed legislation, providers will receive a funding supplement based on actual county-level cost of rental housing.  Because updates to state and county payment systems are required to address the new rate structure, the Housing Supplement will begin taking effect July 1, 2021, and become fully implemented in September, 2022. Until that time, First Place will continue to work within our available funding to maximize our capacity to house young people and provide them with the robust services that are a hallmark of the My First Place model.

Once again, we want to express our deep thanks and gratitude to Governor Gavin Newsom, Assemblymember Phil Ting, Senator Jim Beall, and all the other members of the legislature who continue to make foster youth a priority in California. In these difficult times, it is especially important that we uplift and support our young people in reaching their full potential.