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Credit: Photo courtesy of Carrington Henry

WA's foster youth get a last minute extension of pandemic assistance

When Carrington Henry, 21, woke up on Friday morning, he found himself cut off from extended benefits for foster youth in Washington state.

“My income is now gone,” Henry said. “ I won’t have money each month, and now it’ll be harder for my family.”

But a last-minute infusion of money provided Henry – and about 320 other youth across Washington state – with one more month of benefits. These youth were supposed to lose benefits starting on Friday.

Henry experienced homelessness as a teenager. He played football at Garfield High School and received a scholarship to play at the college level. But he lost the ability to walk after he was shot three times on July 4, 2019.

He’s unable to work, and the $810 per month he received from the state has helped him pay for groceries and some of the bills at his grandma’s house in Federal Way.

On Friday, before learning about the emergency funds to float these youth another month, Henry said he hopes that he'll be able to supplement with payments due to his disability.

The cut off mark goes back to the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government required states to extend benefits to young adults between the ages of 18 and 21. In Washington state, youth exit the extended foster care system after they turn 21.

But the age moratorium allowed state agencies like the Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families to continue to provide medical benefits, case management, and referrals to community resources to youth over the age of 21. Those included in the program also received financial assistance from the state, which was paid for with federal pandemic relief money.

Earlier this week, the state department for children and youth services told KUOW that unless Gov. Inslee issues an extension, the department would be required to follow state law, which cuts off the extended foster care program to youth over the age of 21 like Henry. And ultimately, the state’s law would need to change to allow for a permanent extension for youth over the age of 21.

“There is no current infrastructure to serve youth over 21,” Nancy Gutierrez, a spokesperson for the state department for children, youth, and families. “We have to build that infrastructure again to have it be permanent.”

Colleen Shea-Brown is an attorney with the Legal Counsel for Youth and Children. She says that an extension from the government would allow more time for the federal government to act on an extension to the moratorium.

“If they take action later in October, and we’ve spent all this effort dismissing all these cases […] it’s creating a whole level of bureaucratic kind of nightmare that we could simply avoid by having a having kind of a bridge proclamation that will at least allow us the 30 days to see if Congress is going to take action that would extend this even longer,” Shea-Brown said.

On Friday afternoon, Gov. Inslee’s office authorized additional financial support to provide another month of payments to youth.

In an email to KUOW, Gov. Inslee's office wrote: "The governor’s office continues to monitor the federal landscape with regard to the potential for another extension of EFC services beyond age 21. That would determine if a second proclamation is needed, and we will be prepared to respond promptly to any federal action. In the meantime, DCYF caseworkers have been trying to work with each of the young adults to connect them with other services and supports, according to their needs, with a special focus on housing stability. The governor has authorized the use of emergency funds to provide an additional month of financial assistance to support the young adults transitioning out of extended foster care as the current federal moratorium expires."

Liz Trautman is the director of public policy and advocacy at the Mockingbird Society, a Seattle-based organization that helps youth in the foster care. She says the extension is a "great step" to help support youth, but she also thinks it's a stopgap measure.

"We will need to continue to push for a more meaningful extension of support," Trautman said. "We know the pandemic isn't over; it won't be over next month."

The end of this moratorium doesn’t just stop the payments that help take care of life’s necessities. Carrington Henry is also losing the advocates who were helping him build his future.

“We could’ve asked those social workers for anything, and they would’ve worked the hardest to get that for us,” Henry said. “Now, we don’t necessarily have that anymore.”