Funds sought for foster care transition program

The Legislature would authorize funds to expand a program that assists youth transitioning out of the state’s foster care system under a bill considered March 9 by the Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Ben Hansen
Sen. Ben Hansen

As introduced by Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair, LB573 would appropriate $10 million in general funds in each of the next two fiscal years to the state Department of Economic Development. Funds would be used to offer matching grants to a nonprofit in a first-class city that uses a former college campus to provide services to youth exiting the foster care system.

Hansen said the nonprofit Angels Share currently operates a small program on the former Dana College campus in Blair, which serves young people who are former state wards. The program helps to secure housing, employment and other services for young people who are struggling with the adjustment to adulthood, he said.

A relatively small investment of state dollars in such programs can have a large impact on some of Nebraska’s most vulnerable residents, Hansen said, adding that a large percentage of young people who age out of the foster system become homeless, are unemployed or end up in the state’s correctional system.

“If we fail to provide support for former foster youth, the monetary and social cost to Nebraska is much greater,” Hansen said.

He brought an amendment to the hearing that would lower the appropriation to $10 million total and would include eligibility for programs that provide services to youth aging out of the state’s juvenile justice system.

Chris Tonniges, president and CEO of Lutheran Family Services, testified in favor of the bill, which he said would provide an opportunity for more former foster youth to receive wrap-around services on the former Dana College campus.

About 140 young people age out of the state’s foster system each year, Tonniges said, and often struggle due to the years of trauma they have experienced. Approximately 30 percent are homeless within the first nine months and 25 percent are caught up in the sex trade, he said.

“Youth aging out of the foster care system are often faced with difficult [or] impossible decisions just to survive, especially those who have limited or no social support network to fall back on,” Tonniges said.

Spike Eickholt also spoke in support on behalf of Voices for Children in Nebraska. Eickholt singled out the amendment in his testimony, which would expand the bill’s provisions to also assist youth exiting the state’s juvenile justice system.

“This is a worthy investment and it’s an important thing for the state to do,” Eickholt said.

No one testified in opposition to LB573 and the committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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