Senate embraces Bonnie Lowenthal’s foster youth bill

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food-stampsThe bipartisan support for Bonnie Lowenthal’s foster youth food stamp bill spread to the state Senate Tuesday, as a key committee overwhelmingly approved the measure, increasing the chances it will be on the governor’s desk before the summer ends.

Assembly Bill 719, by the Democratic Assemblywoman from Long Beach, would tap into federal funds and deliver food stamp support for foster youth without adding any burden to the state’s teetering budget. The bill already made its way through the Assembly without opposition, and now seems primed to move through the Senate process in similar fashion.

“This bill actually brings money to the state,” said Lowenthal. “It helps young people who need it, and that helps merchants and cities. It’s a win, win, win.”

The bill would grant a year of food stamps to foster youth who “age out” of the system, helping vulnerable young people who too often find themselves struggling with adult responsibilities without a family structure to lean on.

Each year, about 4,400 foster youth reach the age of 18 and no longer qualify for foster care. Researchers say nearly a third of them will end up homeless for at least part of their first year as adults.

“Allowing that to happen doesn’t help anybody,” Lowenthal said. “It’s terrible for the young people, and it’s also bad for the communities in which they live, and bad for the state as a whole.”

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.

“If we can get them off to a better start, we can turn some of those numbers around,” said Frank Mecca, executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association of California. “And with the budget deficit the way it is, using federal funds is the best way to help.”

The bill would avoid bureaucratic hurdles by declaring aged-out foster youth automatically qualify for a year of federal 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.

AB 719 was approved 6-0 in its first policy committee in the Assembly, and emerged from that house on a 75-0 vote. Today’s 4-1 vote in the Senate Human Services Committee suggests the kind of bipartisan backing likely to land it on the governor’s desk.

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