Youth forced out of the state foster care system would receive extra assistance in their transition into adulthood under a bill moving forward in the legislature.
Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln tells colleagues during legislative floor debate the bill arises out of the failure of the current state system.
“We’re debating this bill, because we have children who come out of the system and they end up in homeless shelters,” Coash says. “We have to talk about this bill, because when children come out of this system they’re ill-prepared to work, they’re ill-prepared to live independently, they’re ill-prepared to deal with substance abuse.”
Grim statistics have been used to support LB 216. According to supporters as many as 70% of the girls aging out of the foster care system get pregnant. Even a higher percentage of boys get in trouble with the law.
Sen. Amanda McGill of Lincoln, the bill’s sponsor, has worked to reduce its cost. Originally estimated to cost $6.7 million over the next two years, McGill has pared the cost down to a projected $1.2 million in its second year. LB 216 originally sought to help as many as 400 youth, but that number has been dropped to 175 by making youth placed in foster care by the courts ineligible for the assistance.
The bill would provide Medicaid coverage, housing assistance and educational aid plus other services to youth ages 19 and 20, providing a two-year buffer from the state foster care system to age 21.
The cost concerns some senators.
Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins says he understands the concept, but worries about the price tag.
“I’m a little fearful of this thing. I know where you’re trying to go and I appreciate that,” Bloomfield tells McGill. “I know what you’re trying to do. I know there are struggles there. I also know there will be a number of good, sound $30,000 priority bills go away if we spend a million here.”
Bloomfield asks if there is any way to reduce the project $6,000 to $7,000 per youth cost of the program. Another senator suggested an evaluation method be put in place to monitor whether the program is working as envisioned.
Click here for our previous story in which two youth tell their story about aging out of foster care.