Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Severely disabled foster youth

Bill to Provide Critical Support to Disabled Foster Youth Passes; Awaits Governor's Signature Coastal Post,10/4/07

Sacramento, CA- Severely disabled foster youth may begin receiving critical income support upon emancipation out of foster care if legislation that was passed by the Assembly and the Senate early this morning is signed by the Governor.

The legislation is Assembly Bill 1331, authored by Assemblymember Noreen Evans, would create a safety net for severely physically and mentally disabled foster youth who are exiting the state's foster care system by requiring county child welfare agencies to screen all youth at age 16 for a mental or physical disability and apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for those who are likely to qualify. SSI is a federal program that provides monthly cash benefit to our nation's most vulnerable: disabled children and adults with limited or no income.

According to Staff Attorney Angie Schwartz of the Public Interest Law Project in Oakland, up to 15% of these youth suffer from a serious physical or mental disability, and yet the vast majority of these youth are exiting foster care without SSI in place. "Without financial supports in place, these youth will likely become homeless or incarcerated, beginning a chronic cycle of poverty. We can stop this cycle by ensuring that youth emancipate with the critical support of SSI."

"SSI is a critical resource for youth leaving foster care that are too disabled to work, often because of the very abuse or neglect which landed them in care at the outset. However, many leave foster care without SSI in place because currently no one is charged with assessing foster youth for eligibility for SSI and assisting youth with the arduous application process," according to Attorney Laura Streimer, from the Alliance for Children's Rights, which together with the Public Interest Law Project, California Child Welfare Director's Association and the John Burton Foundation for Children Without Homes is a co-sponsor of the legislation.

"With this legislation, California is on the forefront of providing the support and aid that severely disabled foster youth need to make a safe and successful transition out of foster care," says Cathy Senderling, Legislative Advocate for the California Welfare Directors Association. While many other states have made some effort to screen and assess foster youth for SSI eligibility, "California will be the only state that will ensure that these benefits are in place at the point of emancipation, when foster youth really need the assistance."

"This legislation is not only good policy, it is a cost savings. Homelessness, incarceration and unemployment have real costs for the taxpayers of California," according to Amy Lemley, Policy Director of the John Burton Foundation. "Failing to help foster youth with disabilities make a successful transition is short-term thinking that is irresponsible and expensive."

The Governor has until October 14th to sign AB 1331.

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