LANSING, Mich. — Michigan has received millions of dollars in federal money meant to help former foster children but if the state senate doesn't vote to appropriate it before the end of the month some of that money could disappear.
Michigan got about $10 million from the American Rescue Plan for older children in foster care and those who have recently aged out. Use of the money has been approved by the state House but the state Senate has yet to vote and advocates are getting worried. If they don't act soon, the state will lose the portion of that money meant for former foster children in their mid-20s.
“Those youth in transition funds can assist our youth with life skills, supportive services that sort of help them be successful to that as that next stage of life," said Rachel Willis who serves as the director of the Division of Child Welfare Licensing within the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
The money is given directly to foster youth and can be spent on things like rent, a car payment, utility bills or groceries. Now in the pandemic, that funding is even more important. Recipients get $1,000 for each month they are eligible.
“I’ve been able to use that wisely; first month’s rent, deposit for my first car for $5,000, a computer and printer… But definitely, I’ve been directly affected by COVID because of work, trying to stabilize a place of living, and having to make sacrifices that you wouldn’t normally have to make," said Michael Davis-Thomas who works as a public speaker and was in the Michigan foster care system.
Without that money, the benefits for the foster care system simply end when a child turns 18.
“We’ve got a lot of kids that are aged out and homeless," said Helen Zeerip who is a former foster parent and current adoptive parent.
In fact, according to the national foster youth initiative about 25 percent of former foster youth experience homelessness within four years of aging out of the system. Nationwide 550,000 youths without parents or guardians experience homelessness.
Now advocates are calling on the Michigan legislature to approve the funding.
“About three-quarters of the states across the country have already allocated the funds. Michigan was one of those states that have not," said Patrick Brown, an outreach associate with Michigan's Children-- an advocacy group based in Lansing.
Michigan's Children wrote a letter to Governor Whitmer and MDHHS in August saying in part, "The pandemic has been devastating to Michigan individuals and families, and most particularly to young people who have aged out of the foster care system.. to this day, however, your administration has not disbursed these dollars to the vulnerable individuals they were intended to help.
“Our policymakers in Lansing have a responsibility to be leaders and to really govern and right now we’re not doing that-- we need to get back into session, we need to pass some of this federal legislation so we can allocate funds," Brown said.
The officer of Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey tells me the funding as taken so long to be allocated because it's part of the normal budget approval process, the deadline for which is Sept. 30. They expect to allocate the money before the deadline.
In the meantime, on Wednesday Whitmer announced work to send stimulus checks to older foster youth to help them recover from the pandemic.
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