Lawmakers in the state House said Tuesday they hope a package of bills now working its way through the chamber will help teenage foster children transition from young adulthood into maturity.
“We have our own support networks in place, and we assume they’re in place for everyone,” House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, said at a Capitol press conference.
A bill reauthorizing a state subsidy for the caregivers of older foster children has made the most progress so far.
Right now, the federal government pays a small stipend to families who take on foster children from birth to age 18.
In 2012, the Legislature voted to extend the stipend to age 21, as part of a welfare reform bill that eliminated cash assistance for people with disabilities. The state Supreme Court struck down the law last August, ruling that it had been passed improperly by the General Assembly.
Rep. Karen Boback, R-Lackawanna, is sponsoring a bill that would again extend the subsidy. The House passed the measure unanimously two weeks ago. Boback says it’s now up to the majority-Republican Senate to take up the baton.
“The money is there, the children are there. Time to do something,” Boback said.
Another proposal, from Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-Luzerne, would set up a $3 million pilot program under the Department of Human Services to pay for teenage foster kids to get driver’s licenses, training, and insurance.
Toohil said her proposal could serve as a “national model for change in fixing a broken, cyclical system.”
A final proposal, sponsored by Rep. David Hickernell, R-Lancaster, would waive college tuition and fees for foster kids, as well as mandate colleges set up programs to work with foster kids.
Jonathan Hamilton, a 21-year-old college student and former foster child, said the proposal would help others like him “focus more on school instead of working to go to school.”
More coordination could also help universities provide housing to students who don’t have a home to go back to during breaks from class.
The Senate failed to take up Hickernell’s proposal last session. It is opposed by Penn State University.
Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, gave the package his blessing Tuesday. He painted it as a way to help teach self-reliance.
“[Foster kids] need to be able to sustain themselves in a market economy, so they need the skill set,” he said.