WASHINGTON, D.C. – November 19, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — U.S. Senators Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) 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.
“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 Senator Schatz. “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 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
“This is a positive step by Senator Schatz and is in keeping with our federal, state and county efforts to reduce homelessness. We are happy to see that an action recommended by the City is moving in a bi-partisan way through the United States Senate. It can be used effectively at the local level to ensure that young people coming out of foster care and vulnerable families are given real opportunities,” said Kirk Caldwell, Mayor of the City and County of Honolulu.
Senator Schatz’s office worked with the City and County of Honolulu to develop key provisions included in this bill. The Family Unification, Preservation and Modernization Act has also been endorsed by the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, National Alliance to End Homelessness, Youth Villages, Boys Town, the Forum for Youth Investment, SparkAction, Covenant House International, the Child Welfare League of America, True Colors Fund, and First Focus Campaign for Children.