On Tuesday, January 14, the House Committee on Education and Labor approved H.R. 5191, the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act (RHYTPA) of 2019. The bill, which is a reauthorization of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act of 1974 (RHYA), adds non-discriminatory language that aims to protect LGBTQ+ youth, focuses on trauma-informed services, and provides funding for suicide prevention. The motion to report the bill to the House floor, which passed in a 28 to 19 vote, is the first step in offering states the resources and funds needed to improve and expand youth services.

During his statement, Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) encouraged the passing of the bill, stating that “Without stable housing, young Americans cannot access the resources often needed to excel in school, avoid abuse and sexual exploitation, and live self-sufficient and rewarding lives.” He also points out the discriminatory nature of the epidemic: “LGBTQ and children of color are far more likely to experience homelessness than their peers.” Further, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D-Fl) referred to the issue of sex trafficking by reminding the committee that there is no such thing as a “child prostitute” and that the government has the responsibility to protect children, rather than prosecute them.

The anti-discriminatory language in H.R. 5191 is nearly identical to that used in the bipartisan and bicameral Violence Against Women Act of 2019, which passed with no opposition. However, the ranking member, Virginia Foxx (R-NC) expressed in her opening statement her party’s disappointment for being denied the chance to participate in bipartisan negotiations on H.R. 5191 In response, Congresswoman and cosponsor of the bill Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) stated that “we do not have the luxury of time.”

Unfortunately, it has been over a decade since the last reauthorization of RHYA. Congresswoman Jahana Hayes (D-CT) pointed out during the hearing that homelessness rose by 3 percent% in 2019, a testament to the importance of the legislation. In addition to non-discriminatory language and suicide prevention, H.R. 5191 authorizes $225 million for basic services and transitional living programs, as well as an additional $75 million to identify and support vulnerable youth who have experienced sexual trafficking.

Additionally, the bill extends the length of stays in Basic Center Programs from 21 to 30 days, enforces FASFA completion assistance, along with staff training on human trafficking, sexual assault, and trauma. Indeed, as congresswoman Hayes believes, youth homelessness is not only a housing issue, but a civil rights and child welfare issue, and H.R. 5191 addresses it as such.