• June 2016
  • Vol. 17, No. 4

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Extending Public Food Assistance for Youth Aging Out of Care

A recent policy brief from the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) recommends measures States can take to prevent older youth who have exited foster care from losing Federal financial assistance for food purchases. Supporting Youth Aging Out of Foster Care Through SNAP, part of CSSP's New Policy Series on Food Security, looks at the implications of food insecurity for older youth aging out of foster care. Because this vulnerable population faces unique challenges with the transition to adulthood, including access to health care and employment, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP—formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) is a critical support.

SNAP benefits for adults without children, or "Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents" (ABAWDs), however, are conditional. Individuals identified as ABAWDs must be employed or participating in some sort of work program for at least 80 hours per month, or their SNAP benefits will be restricted to 3 months in a 36-month period. Because so many youth formerly in foster care lack a high school diploma and suffer from unemployment, they are particularly vulnerable to the time limitations associated with the SNAP work requirements.

The brief notes that States have the ability to use waivers to override the ABAWD provision in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, but that several have chosen to allow the penalty to take effect. As a result, the brief estimates that between half a million and a million low-income individuals will lose their SNAP benefits, including many young adult foster care alumni.

Because food insecurity would be so harmful for this population and further threaten their economic stability and both physical and mental health, the brief suggests several steps that States can take to strengthen SNAP:

  • Allocate waivers to former foster youth: All States are allowed to exempt 15 percent of the individuals subject to the time limits, and States have discretion to choose to whom this will apply. States have the authority to categorically exempt all youth formerly in care age 26 and under.
  • Promote stability through employment and training: Connect youth formerly in care to employment and training programs to help them both retain their SNAP benefits and become self-sufficient.
  • Increase participation through active outreach: Make sure that youth formerly in care know how to access SNAP benefits. Data suggest that only 30 percent of this population receives public food assistance, so active outreach is needed to connect them with this important benefit.

To learn more, access the policy brief at http://www.cssp.org/policy/2016/supporting-youth-aging-out-of-foster-care-through-SNAP.pdf (2 MB).

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