On Tuesday July 24, the House Committee on Financial Services passed H.R. 2069 the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act of 2017 by a vote of 34-23.
The legislation has been involved in some controversy over the past several months as it has been targeted as part of a larger agenda by House Republicans to increase work requirements under several human service programs including public housing. The bill would give youth that age out of foster care a priority in public housing programs including vouchers over other categories of families and individuals. Several housing groups oppose the action due to limited public housing funds as well as giving national preferences for any one group, something that was eliminated in national housing laws several years ago.
The original bill, as sponsored for more than one congress would give youth that have aged out of care a preference but would require that young person to be working or in school for 35 hours a week. Part of the controversy is that public housing programs do not generally have any type of assistance or support that would engage such an individual in finding work or education.
Recent information from the National Youth in Transition Database indicates that for young people who aged out of foster care, by age 19, approximately 41 percent were working full or part-time and only 57 percent had a high school diploma or GED by age 19. Most of these housing authorities lack programs that could assist these youth, who left a state child welfare system just months earlier, without a diploma. Most states also lack any cash assistance for single adults (TANF does not extend beyond families). Under current Title IV-E foster care, if a state chooses the option to extend foster care up to age 21 the young person must be in a combination of work or education for 80 hours in a month. They also have mandatory monthly visits or at least check-ins with caseworkers as well as continuing maintence in some form through a foster family, college dorm arrangement of some semi-independent living circumstance. Only 25 states and the District of Columbia extend foster care beyond age 18 despite having the option since the 2008 Foster Connections to Success Act.
Introduced by Representative Mike Turner (R-OH), the bill has had bipartisan support and had been gathering more support until it started to move in the House Committee. That created more concerns and opposition by some housing groups and some children’s groups. (CWLA signed onto an earlier letter of opposition earlier this year). Since that point a substitute was drafted that modified some of the provisions. Under the work of Congressperson Karen Bass (D-CA) some modifications included removal of the original bill’s requirement that any young person had to be working and or in school at least 35 hours per week as well as some other modifications including allowing youth to get on a wait list for public housing as early as 16 before they age out of care.
But some are still critical and concerned about the modified version which allows flexibility by the over 3,000 Public Housing Agencies (PHAs), and the tens of thousands of property owners to set new standards as a substitute for the original mandate of 35 hours. There are also concerns within the housing community about a lack of overall housing funding. Some opponents organizations like CSH support recent changes to Family Unification Program (FUP) vouchers through the Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act (HOTMA) in 2016 that allows some ability to have project-based vouchers. They also highlighted a recent appropriation of $10 million in FUP vouchers for youth. They have urged Congress to make it their priority to encourage the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Administration to award these appropriated monies to local public housing authority (PHA) providers as soon as possible now that applications have been received.
Congressperson Bass has continued to stay on the revised bill that passed the Committee but has acknowledged that other members may feel the improvements do not go far enough and as a result may pull their name off cosponsorship. The legislation now has 28 cosponsors with ten cosponsors, including Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL), removing their names. CWLA is not supporting the legislation.