On Wednesday, the House Subcommittee on Human Resources conducted an oversight hearing labeled, Opportunities for Youth and Young Adults to Break the Cycle of Poverty.  The hearing focused on private and non-profit strategies to move young people into the education and workforce systems.  Subcommittee Chair Adrian Smith (R-NE) said,

“There is an alarming trend happening in this country—the fact that one in seven 16-24 year olds in the United States are neither in school nor working…more than 5.5 million youth nationwide…We know that workers who do not graduate from high school face higher rates of unemployment, regardless of economic conditions, dwindling job prospects, and lower lifetime earnings.”

The Subcommittee heard from Gerald Chertavian, CEO, Year Up, Jameela Roland, Graduate, Year Up, Martrice Manuel, Senior Program Director, Youth Scholars, and Cheryl A. Oldham, U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  The hearing coincided with the release of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program as it applies to youth transitioning off SSI disability to adulthood.  SUPPLEMENTAL SECURITY INCOME: SSA Could Strengthen Its Efforts to Encourage Employment for Transition-Age Youth

Mr. Chertavian said that the education and workforce systems are not adequately preparing young adults for success in the labor market.  He testified that problems are perpetuated by poor perceptions of youth, ineffective program design, and barriers to working.  He suggested that federal workforce funding should be aligned with employer demand and that we should focus on outcomes, results and removing barriers to labor market participation.

Martrice Manuel discussed other programs including Project New Futures (PNF). In 2013/14, PNF served 172 youth in foster care. 71% of in-school participants received their high school diploma or GED, and 64% of graduates transitioned to college, employment or training.  He said that the program,

“operated from 2006 until 2014 and was a US Dept. of Labor National Demonstration Project involving 5 cities (New York, Detroit, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles) preparing and supporting older foster care youth to successfully transition from high school into college, employment and/or training. The program was evaluated by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies and was the highest ranked of the 5 cities.” 

PNF annually tracked and supported over 140 older DCFS youth after they had graduated from the YS3 program to help them through the summer after their graduation and then, the first two years after their graduation to assist them in a wide variety of ways to help them succeed in their placement in college, employment and/or further training.”

He told the Subcommittee, “…federal investment in Chafee funds to build independence of older foster care youth as well as employment has been very helpful, and it would be a smart investment for the federal government to significantly increase this investment because for each reenrolled high school dropout that graduates from high school, the savings to taxpayers is over $290,000.

Federal investment would also help increase access to adequate child care, resources for child care in schools (this would increase attendance for parents who struggle with child care), one-on-one mentoring for the parent, financial literacy training for disconnected youth, access to affordable and safe housing, increase in high school to career training programs (Youth Build, SPCI, dual credit and enrollment and certificate programs).”

In a post-hearing statement, Chairman Smith said that, “While there are dozens of major federal programs dedicated to helping these youth—from job training and education to social services and juvenile justice—we have not seen major improvements in desired outcomes.”

The GAO report analyzed what happens to young people who are on SSI disability when they transition to adulthood.  Some in Congress have suggested that SSI for children should be turned into a state block grant to cut federal spending. Such a proposal may be in this week’s budget.

The SSI eligibility shifts when a person turns 18 and becomes an adult.  There is a new application and assessment for the approximate 1.2 million children on SSI disability (out of a total of 8.25 million people).  The average benefit is $650 a month (national total of $55 billion).  The GAO found that approximately 57 percent are determined ineligible when they become adults.  There has been limited success in helping with a transition to workforce.  The GAO also found that there were limited efforts to connect young people to vocational-education based services that might facilitate better transition to the workforce. The GAO recommended that:

  • Better analyze of data to determine why a large proportion of transition-age youth on SSI with reported earnings did not benefit from income exclusions that might expand and encourage their employment
  • Analyze options to improve communication about SSA work incentives and the implications of work on SSI benefits, with a goal of increasing understanding of SSI rules and work incentives for transition-age youth and their families.
  • Work with the Department of Education to determine the extent to which youth on SSI are not receiving transition services through schools that can connect them to vocational rehabilitation agencies and services.
  • Explore options for increasing connections to vocational-rehabilitation agencies and services, including their potential costs and benefits. One option, among others, could be to expand the Ticket to Work program (limited to adult access) to include youth.