With California facing a $68 billion deficit, Gov. Newsom looks to cut funding to foster care services



Certain foster care services are on the chopping block as California faces an ominous $68 billion deficit in 2024-25 and the governor looks for places to save money.

Some of those proposed cuts include at least three child welfare programs that serve foster youth, including the Housing Navigators Program under the Department of Housing and Community Development.

FIGURE IT OUT As California faces a $68 billion deficit for 2024-25, Gov. Gavin Newsom could cut funding to foster care services that SLO County Department of Social Services Program Manager Roxi Selck said are important support networks to foster youth and those who recently aged out of foster care. - PHOTO BY SAMANTHA HERRERA
  • Photo By Samantha Herrera
  • FIGURE IT OUT As California faces a $68 billion deficit for 2024-25, Gov. Gavin Newsom could cut funding to foster care services that SLO County Department of Social Services Program Manager Roxi Selck said are important support networks to foster youth and those who recently aged out of foster care.

Simone Tureck Lee, director of Housing and Economic Mobility for the nonprofit John Burton Advocates for Youth, told New Times that the Housing Navigators Program is one of the most important programs for youth who are aging out of foster care.

Once children in foster care turn 18, they can be offered a housing choice voucher program that provides three years of federally subsidized housing, Tureck Lee said.

"The young person is then responsible for paying what would be equal to about 30 percent of their income and the rest is covered by the federal government," she said. "So, it can be really valuable because of the cost of housing in our state."

California pays $13.7 million a year to fund this program, and Tureck Lee said it helps the state access $22.6 million in federal housing assistance.

"This small state investment gets us a lot in return," she said. "Counties use it because it comes from the California Department of Housing and Community Development to county child welfare agencies, and it's funding that counties use to help fund the services and the housing navigation that they provide."

Tureck Lee said if the state decides to get rid of the Housing Navigators Program, it would have lasting effects on California counties that rely on that funding to help fund a range of child welfare services.

In SLO County, eliminating it would be detrimental to the county's 230 foster youth as the program provides financial support, case management, and life management skills, SLO County's Department of Social Services Program Manager Roxi Selck told New Times.

"Some of these services include housing search, case management, coordination of services, education about being a good tenant, job searching, and financial support such as rent deposits, storage fees, moving expenses, furniture, transportation, rent payments, bus passes, and other housing expenses," she said. "Without this support, there is currently no other program in place that would allow us to support our most vulnerable youth: Those who are aging out of foster care with little to no support."

Tureck Lee said the beauty of the navigators program is each housing authority across the state can request up to 50 vouchers a year on a rolling basis. In California, which has the highest number of children in foster care and the largest number of homeless youths in the country, it would be a shame to defund it, she said.

"It's really important that these young people get these vouchers, and they aren't just fending for themselves out there but instead they have someone to help them navigate the housing market and to talk to landlords and to negotiate the lease and to just sort of guide them," Tureck Lee said.

Selck said prior to this program, those who aged out of foster care had access to a transitional housing program or the Supervised Independent Living Program (SILP) which provides a small monthly stipend to youth.

While SILP is still around, Selck said the stipend is barely enough to pay a portion of rent in SLO County, where the average rent is around $2,800.

Tureck Lee said SILP provides a monthly foster care payment that would usually go to a foster parent. Those who age out of foster care get access to that monthly stipend, since they are caring for themselves, until they're about 26.

"It's money each month to help you cover all your basic needs including shelter, food, travel—all the things you need to sort of live," she said.

While Gov. Gavin Newsom isn't calling to eliminate the program, Tureck Lee said he is proposing to take away an extra housing supplement that her organization advocated for in 2023. It's for youth who live in California counties that have a higher cost of living.

"It grows each year a little bit based on the cost-of-living increase, but that just accounts for the increase in living cost," she said. "It doesn't mean that it's the right amount of money, so the proposed elimination to the self-housing supplement was obviously really concerning for young people across the state that were under the impression that they'd be getting a significant increase, in some cases, to their monthly payments starting in 2025."

In SLO County, the loss of SILP funding could increase homelessness for foster youth, Selck said.

Specifically, that cut funding could mean the "loss of employment and employment instability due to loss of housing and youth having to move out of the area where they could possibly find cheaper housing or more services, which in turn would move them away from their already small support networks and permanent connections," she said. "The supports for youth aging out of foster care are already so limited that losing this program would absolutely be detrimental."

Another supportive network that foster parents and youth may have to say goodbye to is the Family Urgent Response System (FURS). Amanda McKinney, senior policy associate of child welfare at Children Now, said that the system provides specific and immediate 24-hour trauma-informed support.

McKinney said the program launched in 2021, receives about 5,000 requests for support every year, has helped preserve family relationships, and led to a 16 percent decrease in the changes of foster care youth placement.

"Through this system, it can respond to any situation where any child or youth who currently or formerly was in foster care or anyone caring for them has any sort of need for extra support or if there's any sort of situation that's causing some instability in their living situation," she said. "No matter the issue, how big or small, FURS can respond and provide support intervention, conflict resolution—really kind of whatever is needed."

In 2023, a total of 4,987 calls were made to FURS and 1,090 of those calls resulted in an in-person mobile response, according to an April Senate Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review agenda item. While 2,086 calls were made by caregivers, 738 were initiated by current and former foster youth.

Out of the 4,987 calls made, 41.2 percent were stabilized at the hotline without requiring any additional service referrals, 23.1 percent of all calls were referred to counties for a mobile response, another 21.4 percent of calls received referrals to other services, and 14.3 percent of callers were either disconnected or declined services.

Selck said SLO County uses this program, and while she doesn't have specific numbers on how many people have called FURS from the county, it's enough to make the loss of this program damaging.

"The Legislature will share some of their reports and their thoughts on the budget proposal here hopefully in a couple of weeks, and they have to pass a budget bill by June 15," McKinney said. "But there's ongoing negotiations even that happen beyond that, and the governor has to sign the budget bill by June 30. So, we should know by the end of June if not before." Δ

Reach Staff Writer Samantha Herrera at [email protected].


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