Members of the 117th Congress were sworn in on January 3rd, 2021. All legislation from the 116th Congress that did not pass is now expired and will need to be reintroduced to both the House and Senate. Fortunately, former foster youth in higher education will enjoy many of the provisions that were part of The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act was signed into law at the end of December 2020. The act contains several notable provisions for youth who have been impacted by the child welfare system. The following sections are contained in “Division X – Support Foster Youth and Families Through the Pandemic.”
Section 3: Continued Safe Operation of Child Welfare Programs and Support for Older Foster Youth
This section includes the Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act (H.R.7947). Several provisions in H.R. 7947 support former foster youth in higher education programs. It provides for an additional $50 million dollars for Education and Training Voucher (ETV) programs and raises the yearly award amount from $5,000 to $12,000 per student until September 30th, 2022. The federal government will provide a 100% match for Chafee and ETV appropriations during the pandemic. There is also more flexibility in what ETV can be used for, and youth no longer have to maintain satisfactory academic progress to continue receiving the award. Additionally, if youth are unable to enroll in postsecondary education due to COVID-19, they may still be eligible for ETV funding. The age limit for ETV funding was raised to 27 through October 1st, 2021.
This section also waives limitations on the amount of funds allowed for housing assistance. States can now use more than 30% of Federal allotment for room and board payments. The act also expands eligibility for room and board payments to all former foster youth aged 18 and older who have experienced foster care after age 14, even if they did not age out of care. These eligibility requirements apply until September 30th, 2021.
Section 3 also appropriates up to $500,000 to states to implementing driving and transportation programs for foster youth. Funds may be used for youth over age 15 to pay for licenses, insurance costs, and assistance purchasing a vehicle. Funds cannot exceed $4000 per youth, per year. This section may be beneficial for youth who need transportation assistance and are unable to use their ETV or other financial aid funding to do so.
Section 4: Preventing Aging Out of Foster Care During the Pandemic
In addition, if a foster youth ages out of care during the pandemic, H.R.7947 stipulates they cannot be required to leave foster care simply due to their age, nor can they be denied voluntary re-entry into care. Youth must be notified of the option to return to care if they aged out during 2020-2021 and will continue to be eligible for foster care payments. This provision extends to September 30th, 2021.
Other sections of the Consolidated Appropriations Act will also impact current and former foster youth and higher education students.
Section 103: Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities
Another provision in the appropriations bill will assist youth aging out of the foster care system. Public housing agencies that provide timely assistance to eligible youth, including those who aged out of foster care, are eligible for assistance through this provision. If a youth is complying with certain housing programs, they can have housing assistance extended for up to 24 months.
Section 479A: Discretion of Student Financial Aid Administrators
This provision gives financial aid administrators discretion to adjust cost of attendance, values used to calculate student financial aid need, and values used to calculate Pell grant award amounts. Administrators can do so on a case-by-case basis and with adequate documentation as to why the change is needed. No additional fee will be charged for students who request these reviews.
Section 479D: Special Rules for Independent Students
This provision increases the maximum Pell grant award to $6,495 (previously $6,345). Additionally, the provision allows incarcerated students to receive Pell grants, greatly simplifies the FAFSA form, and forgives $1.3 billion in loans made to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (QIOA) and the National Apprenticeship Act
This provision provides around $96.5 million to Youth Build activities, which provide work, training, and counseling opportunities for youth between ages 16-24, including youth who aged out of the foster care system or left foster care for kinship guardianship or adoption after age 16.
Currently, 22 states have implemented statewide tuition waivers, and 8 other states have grant programs for students affected by foster care. An additional 8 states also provide a scholarship program for youth affected by foster care.
All states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico utilize the Education and Training Voucher (ETV) funding provided through Chafee. Currently, states are eligible to award students up to $12,000 per year through the ETV program, and students may receive funds for up to five years if they under the age of 27.
More details about each state’s tuition waiver policy can be found at http://depts.washington.edu/fostered/tuition-waivers-state.