Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Whatever happened to the Family Unification Program?

Cartoon used with permission from www.markstivers.com

The 25,000 young people aging out of foster care each year don't have a parent's basement to live in.

They don't have anyone to co-sign for them to rent an apartment.

When they go to college, they can't call "mom" and "dad" if they need help, and they don't have a place to spend college breaks, unless their college has taken this need into consideration.


Regarding housing assistance, how do you want your tax dollars to be spent?

Would you rather invest in these 25,000 young people aging out of foster care each year before they enter into situations of homelessness, unwed pregnancy, unemployment and incarceration?

Would you rather offer hope and assistance when they are in their late-teens and early-20s, a time when young people have an open mind, high level of energy and are actively engaged in the process of directing their future lives?

Even for the most hard-hearted pragmatist, the cost-benefit ratio should be obvious: "Communities can provide services and housing for less than $6,000 annually while the cost of residential treatment and incarceration of these youth often exceeds $55,000 annually."

The purpose of the Family Unification Program (FUP) is:

- To promote family unification by providing housing choice vouchers to families for whom the lack of adequate housing is a primary factor in the separation, or the threat of imminent separation, of children from their families, and

- To provide housing choice vouchers to youths 18 to 21 years old who left foster care after the age of 16, and lack adequate housing.

Congress added youth as an eligible population for FUP in October 2000. The intent was to help young people aging out of foster care to receive the housing resources they need to avoid homelessness and successfully transition to adulthood.

But youth across the nation are not receiving this help. Why?

According to CWLA, HUD has not issued Notices of Funding Availability for the FUP program since FY2002. Nor have they released funds for FUP since then... despite the fact that the Tenant Protection Fund (where FUP money comes from) had leftover funds of up to $33 million that could have been used for this program.

Some states appear to be creating a local work-around regarding this issue. Kudos to Colorado for figuring out a way to provide youth housing on a statewide level.

But it troubles me that HUD appears to be ignoring this program. Even on HUD's website, where FUP is mentioned - with no success stories, I might add - the eligibility criteria that they posted does not even mention young people aging out of the foster care system.

This is a national problem and it needs to be addressed by Congress.

According to the Child Welfare League of America, "In the FY2007 Appropriations Bill, the House and Senate set aside $10 million of the funds in HUD’s Tenant Protection Fund for FUP for the purpose of promoting family unification and successful transitions to adulthood for hundreds of young people in foster care. Unfortunately, when the Congress passed a year-long Continuing Resolution, the $10 million for FUP was dropped."

Another thing that I find short-sighted is that the systemic barriers and short-time span regarding youth housing vouchers:

1.) Vouchers for families are renewed yearly -- but vouchers for youth are time-limited to 18 months. As with my previous blog entry, I believe this sends a message to young women that they will receive help only if they get pregnant.

2.) The child welfare agency is responsible to refer the youth to the program, and to provide aftercare services. Child welfare agencies can contract with other agencies to do so...

But what about youth who fall through the cracks, and don't have agencies and agency workers who are willing to advocate for them? Don't they need help most of all?


Important Update: Please see Sept. blog entry regarding opportunity to apply for FUP funds.

Sources:
Child Welfare League of America
Catholic Charities USA

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