Assembly sides with Bonnie Lowenthal on foster youth food stamp bill

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food-stampsThe state Assembly on Monday overwhelmingly approved a bill by Bonnie Lowenthal that would bring federal dollars to California in the form of food stamps for foster youth who “age out” of the system.

“This bill helps young people who need it,” said Assemblywoman Lowenthal, D-Long Beach. “And it brings federal dollars to California at a time when we need them most.”

Assembly Bill 619 would grant 12 months of food stamp aid to foster youth during their first year as adults. Lowenthal said she hopes the bill will provide a softer landing for the more the 4,400 young people who lose all state support when they turn 18.

The bill was approved Monday on a 54-0 vote in a session of the full Assembly.

Researchers say nearly a third of foster youth who leave the state’s foster care system because of their age end up homeless for at least part of their first year as adults.

“Many of these young people begin their adult lives at an incredible disadvantage,” said Lowenthal. “They are much more likely than other kids to end up on the streets or in the criminal justice system. We can’t just look the other way.”
Frank Mecca, executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association, said the bill would provide “some degree of stability” for the young adults, and “make sure they don’t have to choose between putting food on the table and other necessities.”

The bill would avoid bureaucratic hurdles, by having counties simply declared “aged out” foster youth qualified for a year’s worth of food aid. At the end of the 12-month period, the young adults could apply for further aid, just like anybody else, but would then have to meet the same program criteria as all other applicants.

Recent studies have shown that less than 40 percent of foster youth have at least $250 of their own when they leave the state’s care. Nearly half have not completed high school. About 65 percent have no place to live when they leave their foster home. On average, they make only about $6,000 a year, and nearly half have periods of unemployment within their first four years as an adult. Perhaps the most troubling statistic: more than 70 percent of state penitentiary inmates have spent at least some time in the foster care system, according to government studies.

“We can do better,” said Lowenthal. “This is a way to start.”

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