Improving benefits access for children in foster care
Improving the Economic Security of Children in Foster Care and Young People Transitioning from Foster CareShawn FremstadConsultant and Senior ResearchAssociate,Center for Economic and PolicyResearch
Overview of Presentationo How to improve access to four major public programs providing food, disability benefits, and health insurance o Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) o Free School Meals o Supplemental Security Income (SSI) o Medicaido Focus is on children in foster care as well as young people who have “aged out” or been emancipated from foster care.
Role of Child Welfare Advocateso Active efforts underway in many states to improve benefit access for low-income people generally through outreach and systems change.o Child welfare advocates can make sure outreach efforts include foster children.o Child welfare advocates can push for specific policies and procedures that increase access by addressing special issues foster children face
Lower Educational Attainment andEmploymentSource: Midwestern Study, Chapin Hall at University of Chicago
SNAP: Foster Family Eligibility and Accesso Foster children not eligible on their own, but can benefit indirectly if they live with a foster family that is eligible.o Foster care maintenance payments are not counted toward SNAP income test (so don’t reduce family’s benefits), unless foster family affirmatively asks to include foster child in SNAP eligibility unit. This is generally not a good idea. —SNAP applications should ask if children are foster childreno Massachusetts advocates have produced a fact sheet on SNAP for foster families.
SNAP: Former Foster Youtho Vast majority of former foster youth are financially eligible for SNAP, but available data suggests most do not receive benefits.o In three-state Midwestern Study, less than one in four former foster youth received SNAP at age 19.o Big gender difference: At age 21, half of young women who had aged out of care receiving SNAP, but only 10 percent of young men.
Increasing SNAP Enrollment of Former Foster Youtho States and local agencies should adopt policies and procedures that ensure that youth leaving foster care are 1) screened for SNAP eligibility as part of the transition planning process; and 2) if found eligible (if living independently, they will be in most cases), enrolled so that nutrition assistance is available immediately when they leave care.o California provides a good model. Statewide policy adopted in 2009 requires child welfare and SNAP staff to “work collaboratively to ensure that all youth receive an opportunity to apply for SNAP benefits.” SNAP enrollment has since increased from 5 percent to 23 percent
Increasing SNAP Enrollment of Former Foster Youtho Santa Clara County (CA) Policy: o Waives face-to-face interview with SNAP staff o Before youth leaves care, youth’s independent living caseworker sends completed but undated application to SNAP staff o SNAP eligibility worker dates the application on the same day youth leaves care o Expedited process means SNAP benefits can be available immediately
Other SNAP Issues for Former Foster Youtho Employment, Training, and Education Requirements: Former foster care youth will generally be subject to them. Brief discusses ways to make sure they help rather than hinder.o Three-Month Time Limit for Certain Adults: Waived in many places right now because of high employment. Where limits apply, exemptions, if properly implemented, can impact on former foster youth.
Free School Mealso Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 made children in foster care automatically (“categorically”) eligible for free school meals regardless of income.o Foster parent need only check a box on application indicating child is in foster care. (Make sure applications have this box).
Free School Mealso States/school districts can also enroll foster children without even requiring an application (“direct certification”). Even if a child moves out of foster care status at some point during the school year, they remain eligible for free lunches for the entire school year, and for up to 30 days into the next school year.o To directly certify, school districts can electronically match a database of all children in foster care against a database of all students. Direct certification can also be done based on information provided by child welfare worker or foster family.o States that directly certify or plan to include: Alabama, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, and Washington.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)o According to HHS: o About 21 percent of foster children are potentially eligible for SSI. o But less than 5 percent receive it.o Reasons for under-enrollment include: o IV-E maintenance payments are counted as income (however, non-IV-E maintenance payments are excluded) o When foster children receive SSI, state child welfare agencies typically use benefits to reimburse themselves o Asset restrictions limit amount of SSI benefits that can be saved
SSI for Former Foster Youth with Disabilities: California’s Approacho Screen foster youth between ages of 16½ and 17½ for disabilities. o If likely to be eligible, submit application on child’s behalf. o Application should be timed to allow SSA to determine eligibility prior to youth leaving care. o If foster care maintenance payments would make them financially ineligible for SSI, switch foster child to non-IV-E funds for the month of application.
Conclusion: Top Three Recommendationso Adopt screening and enrollment policies for former foster youth in SNAP and SSI.o Implement direct certification option statewide for Free School Mealso Outreach to former foster youth up to age 26 on Medicaid eligibility
Medicaido Children in foster care automatically eligible for Medicaid.o However, for youth who have aged out of care, Medicaid eligibility currently depends on options and waivers implemented by their state.o Among former foster youth in the three-state Midwest Evaluation, only about only about 51 percent were insured at age 21, compared to 76 percent of youth overall at this age. Nearly one out of every three former foster youth with coverage received it through Medicaid or CHIP.o Affordable Care Act requires all states to extend Medicaid to former foster youth up to age 26 starting in 2014.
Thank you www.firstfocus.net Shawn Fremstad Consultant and Senior Research Associate, Center for Economic and Policy Research