Foster Youth

Sen. Cortese Introduces Legislation to Provide Basic Income to State's Former Foster Youth

There are approximately 3,000 former foster youth who no longer get foster care support and resources in the state of California.

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Basic income may be coming to former foster youth who have aged out of the system without finding permanent placement with families.

On Monday, state Sen. Dave Cortese, D-San Jose, announced legislation that would provide supplemental income to the state's nearly 3,000 former foster youth who no longer get foster care support and resources by age 21.

Senate Bill 739 would require the State Department of Social Services to provide those California residents direct monthly payments of $1,000 for three years.

Former foster youth aged 18-24 are often disenfranchised and face significant disadvantages, according to a 2018 University of Chicago study. They are more likely to have unfavorable employment outcomes, physical and mental health issues as well as low attainment rates of secondary and postsecondary education.

Those struggles have only been exacerbated by the pandemic, Cortese said. "During a time of such uncertainty, unconditional basic income will provide stability to our foster youth transitioning out of foster care and into adulthood, so that they can advance their social, economic, and educational outcomes," Cortese said.

Cortese pointed to a study by University of California at Irvine that found on average, "children who have been in the U.S. foster care system are at a significantly higher risk of mental and physical health problems -- ranging from learning disabilities, developmental delays and depression to behavioral issues, asthma and obesity -- than children who haven't been in foster care."

The state provides extended foster care from ages 18-21, which provides additional stipends and resources; and studies have shown that this extension improves the likelihood of favorable outcomes. But the same study also shows that the abrupt cut off of resources on their 21st birthday has its own set of negative consequences, according to the University of Chicago study.

Cortese introduced similar legislation in the summer of 2020 when he was a supervisor in Santa Clara County. The county approved a one-year pilot program to provide monthly stipends of $1,000 to 72 former foster youth ages 24 and above who are too old to receive foster assistance.

"To our knowledge in Santa Clara County things continue to go well," Cortese said. He said his senate staff has had conversations with the former foster youth in the program and the county's Social Services Agency who have been "exuberant" at the program's fruition.

The senator noted that there have been some logistical issues, but overall, "hearing nothing but good things."

"It's hard to make a mistake with $1,000 a month to a transition-aged foster youth in this economy and in this environment," Cortese said. "It's not a lot of money, but it's the kind of money that could either augment or substitute for the loss of a low wage job, which is unfortunately where a lot of these youth find themselves once emancipated."

Santa Clara County will conduct a study of the program this summer to analyze its success, and Cortese is optimistic that the county will continue it in the future.

He also believes from an ideological standpoint, there shouldn't be much opposition at the state level.

"With this Democratic majority that we have here, which tends to be very very concerned about the safety net and making sure there's not holes in that safety net," Cortese said. "We won't have a hard time ideologically getting supportive here."

But of course, with any major investment, there are budget and logistical concerns. However, there is already a $37 million investment in the 2020/2021 budget committed to non-minor dependents who age out of the system.

"So, it's not something that's completely off the radar," Cortese said. "It's something that's already been acknowledged I think that non-minor dependents are a critical piece of our safety net to be concerned about. Now more than ever."

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