Today, U.S. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced legislation to help prevent youth homelessness, improve support services and housing for youth and families, and help ensure children are raised in supportive, stable households. The Family Unification, Preservation and Modernization Act would improve supportive housing - programs that integrate housing with social services – and policies for children and families at risk of homelessness, keeping families together who might otherwise enter the child welfare system. It would also increase access to social services for youth aging out of the foster care system as they transition to adulthood.
“Throughout my years in public service and as a lawyer fighting housing discrimination, I’ve seen the tremendous impact that access to stable housing and support services can have on families and communities,” Sen. Kaine said. “Unfortunately, many children who age out of the foster care system are left with few places to turn for assistance and end up on the wrong life track. This is an issue my wife Anne and I are very passionate about and I’m proud to partner with Senators Collins, Murray and Schatz to introduce this bill to help keep families together, reduce youth homelessness and ensure we’re meeting the needs of children transitioning out of foster care.”
“Over the course of a year, more than 1.3 million youth experience homelessness. Many of these children are forced to face the danger and despair of homelessness alone, unaccompanied by a parent or guardian, because of disparities in our current system. We must make certain that our nation’s housing policies support our most vulnerable families and help them break the cycle of homelessness that is too often chronic. This bipartisan legislation would increase coordination of crucial resources, remove arbitrary barriers, and provide increased support that will help families stay together, access affordable safe housing, and give our homeless youth the stability and the opportunity they need to succeed,” Sen. Collins said.
“It is our moral obligation to make sure the most vulnerable in our communities, especially children, have the resources and services they need to lead productive lives. That’s why I’m proud to join Senators Kaine, Collins, and Murray in introducing the Family Unification Modernization and Improvement Act,” said U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i). “The sensible changes in this bill will make the Family Unification Program work better for families on the verge of homelessness, as well as young people in Hawai‘i who are aging out of the foster care system and need some help to secure safe, affordable housing.”
Studies from Mathematica Policy Research and the Urban Institute have shown that housing instability is linked to poor outcomes for children. Unsafe housing conditions and homelessness can threaten the safety of a child and can lead to an investigation by the local child welfare agency, out-of-home placement or a delay in family reunification. Homelessness may also lead families to voluntarily place their children in foster care while searching for housing, and families may be separated because of policies that exclude teenagers, especially boys, from shelters. Furthermore, children aging out of the foster care system are particularly vulnerable to homelessness because they must make the transition to adulthood without support, financial or otherwise, from parents or other trusted guardians.
In 1990, Congress authorized the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to create the Family Unification Program (FUP), which provided housing vouchers to families involved with the child welfare system. In 2000, Congress extended this program to youth aging out of foster care. Though FUP vouchers have yielded some success, the Family Unification, Preservation and Modernization Act would improve the program by making the following changes:
- Utilizing a ‘housing first’ model, similar to the one used to combat veterans’ homelessness, which will ensure safe and stable housing for youth and families
- Building on and strengthening the connections between local public housing agencies and child welfare agencies to promote family stabilization and reunification, and ensuring resources are identified for both youth and families to assist in their housing searches
- Requiring HUD and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to work together to improve system coordination and implementation of the FUP program
- Removing the arbitrary 18-month timeline for youth vouchers and replacing it with a more administratively-manageable 36-month timeline
- Expanding youth eligibility to those who are 18 to 24 who have left foster care at age 14 or older or who will leave foster care within 90 days and are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless
- Promoting self-sufficiency programs by providing incentive payments to successful, data-driven interventions that improve outcomes
- Providing competitive grants for supportive services that are specifically targeted to FUP recipients
“What Senators Kaine, Collins, Murray and Schatz are championing is one of the most effective actions Congress can take to help struggling families – adopting legislation providing the resources parents and children need to stay together. Too often, children are separated from their families and forced into foster care because their parents cannot afford housing. Senators Kaine, Collins, Murray and Schatz wisely recognize that reforming and bolstering the Family Unification Program gets to the heart of this problem, and will go a long way toward making sure children and their parents achieve stability to move forward together as a family,” said Deborah De Santis, President and CEO of CSH.