School has started, bills and rent are due and Michigan youth who were raised by the foster care system are struggling with the ongoing economic and emotional impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. Sadly, Michigan is missing a critical opportunity to support young people.
The State Legislature is sitting on almost 11 million dollars that were dedicated by Congress to help foster youth survive COVID-19 and its aftermath. As alumni of the foster system, we know this situation up close and personally, and call upon the Michigan legislature to act now and distribute the already received funds so they can be used to help young people who desperately need them.
In December 2020, Congress passed the Supporting Foster Youth and Families Through the Pandemic Act as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. This law included funds designated to youth in foster care after Congress heard a cry for help from young people across the country who were not being reached by general pandemic aid and did not have family to rely on.
Even before the pandemic, research showed the struggles young people in foster care face: they suffer almost twice as much trauma as combat veterans, 20% become homeless on their first day out of the foster care system, and only 2-3% graduate from college.
The COVID-19 pandemic worsened an already difficult situation, adding a heavy emotional, mental and financial toll on all of us. Many of us are alone as we navigate this uncertainty without parents and a family. While our peers were surrounded by the nurture of home and family, we were often further isolated and locked down by COVID-19 restrictions. Many of our peers struggled to make ends meet and could not find ways to pay rent and meet their needs.
Other states have quickly moved to implement this federal law and help young people in foster care. States as diverse as Alaska, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, and Tennessee have already implemented the law and are getting aid out to young people. Many more have followed. We are confused and heartbroken that funds have arrived in our state but they have not reached us. The indifference to the crisis we face speaks loudly to us, Michigan's foster youth, who have felt unheard and unimportant throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
As foster youth, we have been raised as wards of the state of Michigan through no fault of our own. We are your children. We depend on the legislature, the most powerful decision-makers in Michigan, for our wellbeing and protection.
Young people with experience in foster care need emergency support. The absence of these urgent pandemic relief funds has worsened our circumstances and increased our unmet critical needs. There is NOT unlimited time. We are days away from September 30th when many of the provisions of the bill will expire. On September 30th, the pause on aging youth out of foster care will end, and many youth will be pushed out of foster care into instability and homelessness. In addition, on September 30th, large numbers of youth who have already aged out of foster care will lose eligibility for services. We have the power and resources to make sure young people do not face a crisis and the legislature, to-date, has chosen to do nothing.
The Legislature can solve this problem by approving the release of the federal funds designated for foster youth to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services so they can be used to help young people with experience in foster care with no more delay.
------------------ T he authors are Ov'varshia Gray-Woods, Carlos Correa, and Alyssa Andrews from Empowering Foster Youth through Technology (EFyTECH). EfyTECh is a foster youth-led policy group supported by Park West Foundation.