On Tuesday, the Senate Human Services Committee unanimously voted in favor of a bill that extends foster care from the current limit of until age 21 to until age 26.
A temporary age extension during the coronavirus pandemic
Senate Bill 912, authored by Senator Jim Beall (D-San Jose), had to be significantly altered from its original form earlier this year to fit the ‘coronavirus, wildfire, and homeless related bills only’ required because of the abbreviated legislature. The biggest change comes in the form of its length. Initially written as a permanent age change, the bill was amended last week to allow the extended age limits to last until six months after the coronavirus state of emergency is over.
This was a tactical move by Senator Beall and other amendment writers in support of the bill. Extending the age would also mean extending benefits for those under foster care, which can include tuition, housing assistance, and monthly stipends. Foster children older than 18 currently receive more than the $700-$800 a month per child average stipend. With a state budget deficit now at $54 billion, the now temporary nature of the bill was planned to make it more palatable to vote for.
SB 912 was also amended to include an urgency clause that would put the effective date in March of 2020, meaning that, if signed into law by Governor Newsom, the bill would automatically become active and all foster children turning 21 afterwards would not have to leave the system.
“When a crisis happens, foster youth are usually hit the hardest,” explained a masked Senator Beall on the Senate floor on Tuesday. “Unfortunately, they are not given the necessary protections to weather the crisis and, without our support, they are left alone to deal with food and housing insecurities.”
Senator Beall also took to Twitter, tweeting “I am proud to share that the Senate Human Services Committee just unanimously supported SB 912, which will put in emergency protections for California’s foster youth during a state of emergency.”
I am proud to share that the Senate Human Services Committee just unanimously supported SB 912, which will put in emergency protections for California’s foster youth during a state of emergency. @journeyhouseca @YouthLawCenter
— Senator Jim Beall (@Jimbealljr) May 19, 2020
Growing bipartisan support and possible future state spending savings
“It’s starting to gain bipartisan support,” said Dr. Karen Thompson, a poverty studies researcher. “It’s good. More lawmakers, especially now, see how much certain segments are suffering now more than ever during this pandemic.”
“It will only be temporary, but it would also lay groundwork showing how successful such an age extension could be. Lower incarceration and drug use rates alone would justify permanently extending the program based on the savings it would give the state alone. If it only takes another $10,000 a year to keep someone out of prison against $81,000 on average to incarcerate someone, you better believe lawmakers will push to keep foster children in school or at work. The GOP loves to see state spending go down and Democrats love to see social programs be extended. I know some colleagues in California who are going to watch this very closely should it be passed for that reason.”
“But for right now, the bill is a step in the right direction. It follows [Senator Beall’s] AB 12 a decade ago that raised the age from 18 to 21. During the Great Recession no less.”
“Foster children past the age of 21 are now suffering even more now. This protects a vulnerable group of people heading into the real world during a time when the real world is in a big slump. Senators from both parties saw this on Tuesday, and hopefully more will see that way again soon.”
SB 912 now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee. A hearing date has yet to be set.