The 116th Congress convened last week, kicking off a two-year legislative session. A new Congress means new members and new committee assignments — and, in the case of the U.S. House of Representatives, a new majority. In addition to addressing the urgent need to resolve the partial government shutdown, the 116th Congress will continue to work on regular matters (like annual budget and appropriations), as well as legislative matters that were not resolved in previous Congresses.
For children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness, the stakes are high. Preliminary data from the U.S. Department of Education indicates that 1,354,363 homeless children and youth were identified in the 2016-2017 school year by public schools – the highest number on record. Head Start programs also reported record levels of homeless children, reaching 52,764 in 2016-2017. Chapin Hall’s Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America, found that 4.2 million young people (ages 13-25) experienced unaccompanied homelessness over a 12 month period.
With family and youth homelessness at unprecedented levels across the nation, Congressional action is necessary to address its complex root causes and help meet emergency needs. And with so many new Members of Congress, it is essential for local constituents to engage with and educate their Congressional delegation.
In this post, we’ll review SchoolHouse Connection’s top priorities for the 116th Congress, as well as other important areas of potential legislative action. Sign up for our e-news and follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with the latest developments.
Funding for Programs that Provide Focused Support for Homeless Children and Youth
- Background: There are only two federal programs that specifically focus on supporting children and youth experiencing homelessness: the McKinney-Vento Act’s Education for Homeless Children and Youth program (EHCY) and the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) programs. The EHCY program removes barriers to the PreK-12 school enrollment, attendance, and success of children and youth experiencing homelessness. Without EHCY’s specific, targeted assistance, homeless children and youth are unlikely to benefit from any investment in early care and education, and are at much higher risk of experiencing homelessness as adults. The RHYA program serves youth experiencing homelessness (including youth who are pregnant and parenting) by meeting their immediate needs, providing long-term residential services, and conducting prevention and outreach efforts to move youth out of homelessness. Without emergency and transitional housing and crisis intervention, homeless youth are at even greater risk for trafficking and other life-threatening conditions.
- What Happened Last Congress: FY2019 funding for the EHCY program increased by 10%, reaching $93.5 million. FY2019 funding for the RHYA program remained level at $127.3 million. Learn more about FY2019 funding for other early childhood and programs here.
- Current Status and Outlook: Congress has not completed work on FY2019 funding for all federal agencies, which has resulted in a partial government shutdown, including for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Once the shutdown is over and FY2019 funding is finalized for all agencies, the 116th Congress will begin consideration of the FY2020 budget. The current divisive political climate makes it difficult to predict whether Congress will be able to return to regular order with respect to budget and appropriations processes.
The Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act
- Background: Youth experiencing homelessness and youth from foster care face unique barriers to accessing and completing higher education. Lack of family and supports, coupled with histories of neglect, abuse, trauma, mobility, and deep poverty, create roadblocks to their path to and through post-secondary education. Yet higher education is their best opportunity for economic independence and healthier lives. The Higher Education Act (HEA) has not been reauthorized in over ten years. HEA reauthorization provides a critical opportunity to remove barriers and increase supports for college access, retention, and completion for homeless and foster youth.
- What Happened Last Congress: In the last Congress, bipartisan legislation – the Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act (HEASHFY) – was introduced in both the House and Senate. HEASHFY streamlines the financial aid process for homeless and foster youth. It also requires colleges and universities to designate higher education liaisons to assist homeless and foster youth, and to develop a plan to assist youth to access housing resources during and between academic terms. Read more about HEASHFY as introduced in the last Congress, and watch a SchoolHouse Connection Young Leader testify before the Senate HELP Committee on higher education barriers and solutions.
- Current Status and Outlook: Congressional observers believe that HEA is among the top priorities of the House and Senate education committees in the 116th Congress. HEASHFY will need to be re-introduced in the 116th Congress; once it is re-introduced, the advocacy goal will be to increase the number of co-sponsors to demonstrate support for the inclusion of its provisions in the HEA reauthorization.
Reforming HUD Homeless Assistance for Children, Youth, and Families
- Background: Homelessness Assistance Grants administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have not been reauthorized in a decade, and must be updated to meet the needs of children, youth, and families. The definition of homelessness used by HUD excludes most homeless children and youth whose families pay for a motel room, or who must stay with other people temporarily, because there is nowhere else to go. These situations are unstable and often unsafe, putting children and youth at high risk of trafficking and violence. Other federal agencies and programs recognize that children and youth staying in these situations are homeless. But under HUD’s definition, these children and youth are not even assessed for services. In addition, HUD has imposed strong federal incentives and requirements for certain housing models, like Rapid Rehousing, and for certain populations, like chronically homeless adults, that do not match all communities’ needs. Even when communities identify greater needs for other populations or program models, they must adopt HUD’s national priorities in order to be competitive for funding.
- What Happened Last Congress: In the last session of Congress, bipartisan legislation – the Homeless Children and Youth Act (HCYA) – was introduced in both the House and Senate. HCYA passed successfully out of the House Financial Services Committee on a bipartisan basis. HCYA would align HUD homeless assistance with child and youth-serving systems, including early childhood programs, public schools, and institutions of higher education, by allowing children and youth whose homelessness has been verified by one of eight specific federal programs to be eligible for HUD homeless assistance. Families and youth would be assessed for services using the same “vulnerability” indices (including age-appropriate criteria) used currently to prioritize people for assistance. HCYA also prohibits HUD from imposing top-down priorities on local communities for specific program models or specific populations if those priorities do not match communities’ assessments of their own needs. Read more about HCYA as introduced and acted upon in the last session of Congress.
- Current Status and Outlook: HCYA will need to be re-introduced in the 116th Congress; once it is re-introduced, the advocacy goal will be to increase the number of co-sponsors to demonstrate support for its provisions.
It is not unusual for legislation to be introduced and re-introduced in many Congresses before its provisions make it to the finish line. For example, the remarkably successful reauthorization of the education subtitle of the McKinney-Vento Act, as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, took ten years. Similarly, the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act is approaching ten years, with multiple introductions of the homeless/foster legislation. Persistence, vigilance, and steadfastness are necessary components of successful legislative advocacy.
Other Issues: FERPA, CAPTA, Child Care, Affordable Housing, Disaster Assistance
While SchoolHouse Connection will prioritize our 2019 federal legislative advocacy on the issues described above, we will monitor and engage in advocacy with our partners on other issues of direct relevance for children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness. Other relevant legislation that the 116th Congress may address include:
- Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
- Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA)
- Affordable housing reform and investments
- Child care expansion
- Supplemental disaster assistance
In addition to our federal legislative advocacy, SchoolHouse Connection works in partnership with local and state advocates to advance policy change at the state level. State advocacy is an especially important strategy to address youth homelessness, since many of the laws that most directly impact youth experiencing homelessness – the rights of minors, health care, housing, employment, education, and child welfare – fall within the purview of state legislatures.
Bills on youth homelessness already have been introduced for the 2019 session in state legislatures in Texas and Maine. We are working on 2019 policy proposals in the areas of high school graduation, child care, minor consent, expungement of juvenile records, higher education, employment, and transportation in Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah. We also have multiple tools to help advocates across the country to support policy changes at the state and federal level.
Upcoming Webinar: Child, Youth, and Family Homelessness in the 116th Congress
\\ Thursday, January 31, 2019, 1:00 – 2:15PM EST
Description: A new Congress means new members and new committee assignments — and, in the case of the U.S. House of Representatives, a new majority. In addition to addressing the urgent need to resolve the partial government shutdown, the 116th Congress will continue to work on new legislative areas, annual matters like annual budget and appropriations legislation, as well as other legislative matters that were not resolved in previous Congresses.
With family and youth homelessness at unprecedented levels across the nation, the stakes are high. In this webinar, we’ll review pending or anticipated legislation related to child, family, and youth homelessness, including services, housing, early care, and education. We’ll also look at the committees and members with greatest influence, and discuss strategies for engaging them on youth and family homelessness.