Health and Human Services

Temporary extension of youth transition program considered

Nebraskans aging out of the Bridge to Independence program could receive $1,000 a month for up to two years under a bill heard Feb. 9 by the Health and Human Services Committee. The program provides a system of supports for state wards and juvenile-adjudicated youth as they transition out of the foster care or juvenile justice systems.

Sen. Terrell McKinney
Sen. Terrell McKinney

LB1113, introduced by Omaha Sen. Terrell McKinney, would establish a pilot program to provide the extended benefit until Dec. 31, 2026, to individuals in the program who turn 21 before Dec. 31, 2024. The bill states legislative intent to fund the program extension through federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars allocated to Nebraska.

Under the bill, to the extent allowed under federal and state law, the benefit would not be considered taxable income and would not affect an individual’s ability to qualify for public benefits or post-secondary financial aid.

McKinney said the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has added additional burdens on youth transitioning out of the Bridge to Independence program.

“Like many marginalized groups, they start their adulthood behind,” McKinney said. “We all know the impact of the pandemic has had on financial stability, mental health, job security, housing and food insecurity … these things have been exacerbated concerning young people aging out of the foster care system.”

Schalisha Walker of Nebraska Appleseed testified in support of LB1113. She said that individuals leaving the program without ongoing support face an increased likelihood of homelessness and other problems.

“I’ve seen firsthand the effects the pandemic has had on this vulnerable population,” Walker said.

Rodney Edwards, who recently transitioned out of the program, also testified in support of the bill. He said the pandemic forced him to leave his dorm room at the University of Nebraska and move in with his grandparents. Edwards said not everyone in his circumstance had housing to fall back on.

“This support is very much needed. It’s not a handout,” Edwards said. “It’s simply a means of survival.”

No one testified in opposition to LB1113 and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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