Wyden Presses for Relief for Foster Youth Facing Unique COVID-19 Challenges

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today urged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide relief for young people in the foster care system as they continue to face a number of unique challenges due to the COVID-19 crisis.

In a letter to Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson, Wyden and 11 other senators asked that HHS work with states to extend relief to foster families and implement temporary and long-term changes to help foster youth weather this crisis and secure a better future. 

“Almost all families in the United States have had to make significant adjustments in their daily lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, for the children and young adults in our nation’s foster care system, periods of change and adjustment are not new,” the senators wrote. “Foster youth have survived a lifetime of uncertainty before and after entering foster care. The serious health challenges and economic downturn brought by the COVID-19 pandemic have merely exacerbated existing challenges faced by the approximately 424,000 children in the foster care system and the more than 20,400 young adults who ‘age out’ of foster care each year.”

“As of December 10, 2020, over 70 million applications for unemployment benefits had been filed since March 21, 2020. Given this high unemployment rate—the highest we have seen in the U.S. in recent memory—we are increasingly concerned about the potentially dire consequences foster youth may face during the economic recession brought on by the pandemic,” they continued. “Even before the public health emergency, only about half of youth aging out of the foster care system each year were anticipated to have some form of gainful employment by the age of 24. We believe that if temporary changes are made to strengthen support and resources for foster youth, they will be better equipped to pursue their goals and become active members of our nation’s workforce.”

In their letter, the senators expressed particular concern about the impact of the digital divide on foster youth, who often lack the proper equipment and internet services needed to participate in virtual learning. Specifically, the senators noted findings from a report indicating that only 21 percent of foster youth have regular access to a computer, with that number dipping as low as five percent for foster youth in rural settings.

Specifically, the senators asked HHS to:

·       Continue to encourage states that have not previously exercised the title IV-E program option to extend foster care programs and extend Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood Program (Chafee Program) services until age 23;

·       Direct guidance to states regarding additional payments to foster care families and providers as part of states’ response to COVID-19;

·       Provide a temporary moratorium on work and study requirements for foster youth during the pandemic;

·       Allow title IV-B funds to be used to provide internet and other technology to vulnerable foster youth and families; and

·       Work with states to address the impact of the digital divide on foster youth.

In addition to Wyden, other senators signing the letter, led by U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., are U.S. Sens. Angus King, I-Maine, Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Tim Kaine, D-Va., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Cory Booker, D-N.J.

A copy of the letter is available here.

A web version of this release is available here.