Gov. Jay Inslee extended payments to young adults aging out of the state foster care system last week, after a pandemic-related federal moratorium expired.
The governor authorized the $810 payments for just one additional month, with final checks expected in early November.
To alleviate financial hardships during the pandemic, the federal government last year prohibited states from cutting off payments and services to people leaving the foster care system, who in Washington would normally lose benefits at age 21. But that moratorium expired Sept. 30, leaving a hole in the recipients’ monthly budgets.
On Friday, the day after the cutoff, Inslee’s office announced it would provide an additional month of support. Washington has roughly 320 people whose benefits were temporarily spared.
“We believe it important to extend these funding benefits another month to help kids transitioning out of foster care,” Inslee spokesperson Tara Lee said in an email.
But advocates say an extra month of funding isn’t enough to prepare many of the young adults for full financial independence.
“I think it’s still not adequate,” said Dawn Rains, chief policy and strategy officer at Treehouse, a foster care nonprofit that has contracted with Washington to disburse the checks in November. “It’s a temporary holdover to give caseworkers the time to do stronger transition planning.”
The nearly $300,000 needed to cover the extension will come from the Governor’s Emergency Fund, a discretionary pool of money. Lee said the governor’s office does “not have enough in the emergency fund to extend longer than a month. Additional funding will need to come from legislative appropriation.”
Advocates hope the state can find a way to financially support the young adults, until a longer-term legislative solution is reached. California, for instance, recently adopted a program to send payments to people who left foster care through age 24.
“What they need is a little more time to step fully into their education and careers, and get their feet fully under them,” Rains said. She hopes the funding will be extended to the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2022, so the Legislature has time to act.
Rains also said the Legislature last year approved $1.9 million to revamp the services Washington offers to young adults transitioning out of foster care, but the effort has faced delays.
While they will receive an additional payment, the roughly 320 Washington recipients are technically no longer enrolled in the state’s extended foster care system, according to a Department of Children, Youth & Families staff notification from Friday.
Staff reporter Nina Shapiro contributed to this report.