How You Can Help Secure Pandemic Relief Funds for Michigan’s Foster Care Youths

 In Art & Gallery News, Park West Foundation, Philanthropy

On June 17th, Michigan’s House of Representatives will vote to pass House Bill 4419 (H-1) which would release already federally-provided emergency pandemic relief funds to young people in Michigan’s foster care system.

The Problem: Michigan lawmakers have held federally approved COVID-19 relief funds and protections from the state’s foster youth for 6 months with no explanation.

The Solution: The Park West Foundation, the charitable nonprofit arm of Park West Gallery, is launching the ifoster27 campaign to call on Michigan lawmakers to pass House Bill 4419 (H-1) on June 17th and release what are known as the “Chafee Pandemic Relief funds.”

How Can YOU Help: Contact your local representative and tell them to vote to pass House Bill 4419 (H-1) and release the Chafee Pandemic Relief funds when they meet on June 17th. You can find the contact information for your state representative here and your state senator here.

Special Tribute Certificate awarded to Park West Foundation by State Representative Tenisha Yancey

Why Michigan’s Foster Care Youth Need YOUR Help TODAY

Michigan’s foster youth between the ages of 14-27—who are transitioning out of the foster care system—are currently experiencing preventable hardships and are being penalized by state lawmakers who are delaying available COVID-19 pandemic relief funds and needed provisions that protect their status in the foster care system.

The Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act (H.R. 7947) became federal law as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act on December 27, 2020 (PL 116-260). This law is intended to bring significant emergency relief to current and former youth in foster care who have gotten little to no support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chafee Pandemic Relief funds for older foster youth were received by states on January 7th, 2021, and yet the State of Michigan has yet to release these funds to youths in the Michigan foster care system OR explain the delay in the release.

If Michigan’s House of Representatives passes House Bill 4419 (H-1) on June 17, the bill will move to the Michigan Senate and we will FINALLY be closer to putting this needed federal funding in the hands of Michigan’s foster youth.

Michigan State House of Representatives (credit: Wikipedia Commons)

Chafee independent living stipends are provided to eligible foster youth aged 16-20 who use those stipends to pay for rent, food, and other necessities. New provisions in this new pandemic relief fund also continues stipends beyond the age of 21 and prevents youth from “aging out” during the pandemic.

Each day that passes without the release of the federally-provided Chafee pandemic relief funds, Michigan’s foster youth are experiencing increased anxiety and stress. They have been unable to plan financially, have been unable to maintain stability, are unable to understand why.

There are other funds that have been delayed as well, including the Youth in Transition (YIT) and Education Training Voucher (ETV) funds. The YIT fund supports foster youth 14-22 with urgent needs related to transportation, education, employment, housing and more. The COVID-19 pandemic relief provisions expanded the fund to include eligible foster youth ages 14-27. However, no announcements or services have started.

Before the pandemic even began, college students who experienced foster care had a 2-3% graduation rate. Since the shutdowns, college campus closures have affected students in foster care who cannot move back “home.” While 39% of young millennials (ages 24-39) have moved back home during COVID-19, such options do not exist for foster youth who age out of the system.

The COVID-19 pandemic Education Training Voucher (ETV) fund, which was designed to address this shortfall and gap in service, has now been held for SIX MONTHS in the Michigan Legislature.

Because there is no central information system for foster care youth, there is also a gap between the distribution of this complex legal information and the notification of the young adults who are affected by these funds. This lack of communication from the State of Michigan only exacerbates the problem because the youth do not realize they have the opportunity to secure these essential relief funds from their government.

Michigan must show compassion by supporting the urgent passage of House Bill 4419 (H-1) and the COVID-19 Chafee Pandemic Relief Fund—which requires no state match—for one of its most vulnerable populations.

The Park West Foundation on the Michigan State Capitol Steps during their memorial vigil

The Fight

May is National Foster Care Awareness Month. On May 26, the Park West Foundation visited the Michigan state capital and met with legislators to address the problem of the delayed pandemic funding. The Foundation, unfortunately, left those meetings still confused about why the Michigan bureaucrats are keeping those essential funds out of the hands of foster youth.

For the young people in Michigan’s foster care system, it has been a shock to learn that their emergency is not on the top of the state’s to-do list. To increase awareness within the state government, the Park West Foundation held a memorial vigil at the Michigan State Capital to shine a spotlight on the foster youth who are being evicted, dropping out of school, or contracting COVID-19 while legislators sit on essential funds that could be the solution to these problems.

During their visit, the Park West Foundation was awarded a Special Tribute by State Representative Tenisha Yancey for its work in the fight for these essential pandemic relief funds and for its continued support for Michigan’s foster children.

State Representative Yancey and Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, M.Ed have both been working closely with the Park West Foundation over the last few months to lobby for Michigan’s foster youth. They have been the voice for foster youth within the Michigan House of Representatives and will continue to be their primary advocates as the first hearing for this bill approaches.

State Representative Tenisha Yancey poses with a member of the Park West Foundation

On June 17th, Michigan’s House of Representatives will vote to pass House Bill 4419 (H-1) on to the Michigan Senate.

This will be the first step in the long process to distribute these essential funds to those who need them. After the bill is passed by the House, it must also pass through the Senate in order to reach the office of Governor Gretchen Whitmer whose signature will finally endorse the distribution of these funds.

The road is long, but Park West Foundation sees the light at the end of the tunnel. We have a plan to hasten the passage of these crucial funds, but we will need your help.

Special Tribute awarded to the Park West Foundation by State Representative Tenisha Yancey

The IFOSTER27 Campaign 

The Park West Foundation is launching the ifoster27 campaign to help bring attention to protections and funds Michigan’s foster children and youth urgently need to be enacted and released by lawmakers during the pandemic.

There are three goals that we wish to accomplish with this campaign:

  1. Make the passage of the House Bill 4419 (H-1) on June 17 an urgent necessity for Michigan lawmakers 
  2. Alert eligible foster care youth that these relief funds are available to them and it is their legal right to receive them
  3. Protect foster youth aged 18-22 with accompanying provisions that allow them to participate in voluntary foster care and YAVFC programs, including youth who had not yet turned 22 years old by January 7, 2021.

The first goal of the ifoster 27 campaign can be accomplished with the help of our community. This campaign is focused on bringing awareness of this emergency to the public through the media. Every day another child is evicted from their home or must drop out of school due to the lack of pandemic relief funds, and it is each of our duty to call our respective state representatives and state senators to stress of the urgency of this situation.

PLEASE help by calling your state Representatives and Governor Whitmer and tell them they can work together to pass House Bill 4419 (H-1) and release the Chafee COVID-19 relief funds to support and protect foster youth NOW.

Our second goal is to notify foster youth who previously aged out of the system of the injustices that they are currently facing. Young adults who are all on their own may not have access to the same communication and technology that the rest of us use every day. The state must ensure they are distributing information and updates regarding Michigan’s Foster Care System to those who would be most affected.

Since 2018, The Park West Foundation worked with a youth-led group named Empowering Foster Youth Through Technology (EFYTECH) to build a central database, similar to online banking or a doctor’s office portal, where anyone who is or has been in the Michigan Foster Care System can find any information they would need.

Park West Foundation youth on the Michigan State Capitol steps

These goals must be accomplished or else the State of Michigan will be required to return unused funds to the federal government.

This cannot happen. Not only would the return of these funds strip Michigan’s Foster Youth of essential assistance that they fought for from the federal government, but it will also decrease the amount of relief funds allocated towards Michigan’s foster youth in the future.

This is an emergency, and we must act now. Do your part by calling your Michigan House Representative and Michigan Senator today and tell them they must vote to pass House Bill 4419 (H-1) on June 17th to release the Chafee Pandemic Relief Funds before it is too late.

Contact your Michigan House Representative here: https://www.house.mi.gov/MHRPublic/frmFindARep.aspx

Contact your Michigan Senator here:  https://www.senate.michigan.gov/fysbyaddress.html

The Park West Foundation meeting Michigan Legislators on May 26th, 2021

The Park West Foundation, the charitable arm of Park West Gallery, was established in 2006 as a driving force to support youth in Southeastern Michigan aging out of the foster care system. The Park West Foundation has taken great pride in the success that has been realized due to the implementation of innovative solutions that have addressed critical and varied needs of Michigan youth.

If you have questions about how you can help in the fight for Michigan’s Foster Youth, contact donna@parkwestgallery.com or call 248-354-2343, ext. 1203.

You can learn more about the Park West Foundation at https://parkwestfoundation.org/

 

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