A flurry of bipartisan activity in legislatures across the U.S. has resulted in the enactment of several bills to address child and youth homelessness in early 2024, while other bills are gradually making their way through state legislatures. Highlights of state policy reforms achieved, and those still in play, are described below.

For additional details on the legislation mentioned, to discuss policy reform initiatives in your area, or to explore ways to participate in advocacy efforts in your state, please reach out to Rodd Monts, SHC’s Director of State Policy.

Table of Contents:

Increasing Access to Vital Documents:

Missouri, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont

Legislators in five states have taken action to remove barriers that youth experiencing homelessness face in obtaining birth certificates, state identification (ID) cards, and vital documents.

  • In Missouri, the Senate is expected to pass SB 772, which would exempt children and youth experiencing homelessness, including unaccompanied minors, from fees for intermediate driver’s licenses and state IDs. 
  • Oklahoma legislators are working to make the “Improving Employment and Education Outcomes for Homeless Youth Act” a reality. The legislation, HB 3231, would create a certification process through which students experiencing homelessness are identified, and allow them to obtain a Real ID non-compliant state identification card at no cost, without the signature of a parent required. HB 3231 has passed the Oklahoma House and is now before the state Senate. 
  • The Rhode Island General Assembly is considering SB 2684. The proposed “State Identification Cards For Minors Without Residence Act” would allow youth experiencing homelessness to obtain a state ID at no cost. The bill also would allow homeless and foster youth at least age 16 to obtain a certificate of birth when consent of a parent, guardian or foster parent isn’t possible, and waive the fee.
  • In South Dakota, two bills were signed into law on March 18: HB 1098 waives the fees for birth certificates and HB 1131 waives the fees for state ID cards, both for people experiencing homelessness (including young people) across the state. 
  • In Vermont, SHC is supporting H.722, a bill that would provide individuals experiencing homelessness or in foster care, age 24 and under, the ability to obtain a vital event certificate at no cost. H.722 also would allow youth experiencing homelessness and those under age 22 who were in foster care to obtain a state ID for free. The legislation is currently being considered by the House Committee on Government Operations and Military Affairs. 

Preventing Eviction through School-Based Rental Assistance:

Maryland

The Maryland General Assembly is considering legislation that would provide rental relief for students at risk of or experiencing homelessness and their families. SB 370 would establish the “Rental Assistance for Community School Families Program” through a $10 million appropriation. Through the program, eligible student households at community schools could access assistance with rent, utility payments and related fees. Eligible students include student families in a rental property where at least one member is at risk of homelessness, as determined by a community schools coordinator, or where at least one member qualifies for assistance under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. The funds would be paid directly to landlords or utility providers, and families could receive help for up to 12 months.

Increasing Access to Child Care and Early Intervention:

Massachusetts

Advocates in Massachusetts are working to ensure more young children and their families experiencing homelessness have better access to early development programs.

 H 4389 would codify automatic child care assistance to families experiencing homelessness in the shelter system, expand access to child care assistance for doubled-up families experiencing homelessness, do away with family work requirements, and expand automatic eligibility for Early Intervention services for children aged 0-3 who meet the McKinney-Vento Act’s education definition of homelessness.

SHC partners at Horizons for Homeless Children and others have been active in leading the advocacy for this important bill. H. 4389 was approved by the House Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities Committee and must now be approved by the House Ways and Means Committee. 

Improving Identification and Resources for PreK-12 Students Experiencing Homelessness:

California, Illinois, New Jersey

In California, John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) and the National Youth Law Center (NYLC) are leading advocacy for two legislative proposals that would increase identification and resources for PreK-12 students experiencing homelessness. 

  • A budget request led by Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-65) for $13 million in ongoing state funding to help replace American Rescue Plan Homeless Children and Youth (ARP-HCY) funds that are set to expire this year. The funding would enhance the ability of local agencies to identify, engage and educate children and families experiencing homelessness, plus allow for the development and implementation of programs to appropriately address the needs of each community.

  • AB 2137 requires LEAs to consider the needs of students experiencing homelessness by requiring consultation with the homeless student liaison during the development of the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP). For LEAs that identify less than 10 percent of low-income students as homeless, this bill would require a description of the steps taken to identify these students to be included in the LCAP. AB 2137 also expands the ability of Foster Youth Services Coordinating Programs (FYSCPs), located in each County Office of Education, to provide direct student support to students in foster care, and helps ensure foster youth are aware of financial aid and postsecondary options. 

In Illinois, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is leading efforts on HB 5407 , legislation that would require that the Office of the Coordinator for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth create a report each year identifying which school districts are likely to be under-identifying homeless students; post that report on its website; and consider the report in prioritizing monitoring, training and technical assistance of school districts. The legislation also expands the allowable uses of any state funding that may be appropriated for students experiencing homelessness to include rental assistance, emergency shelter, housing stability cases management, a variety of transportation uses, and other activities.

In New Jersey, A3658 would provide state reimbursement for school district transportation costs of students experiencing homelessness.

Improving Access to Financial Aid:

Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts

Unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness or with involvement in the foster care system need federal financial aid in order to pursue postsecondary education, but often encounter barriers completing the FAFSA due to their complex personal circumstances.

Bills that would make completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) a requirement for high school graduation are currently being considered in Michigan, New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. In California, JBAY, uAspire and other advocates are working to strengthen a FAFSA completion law passed in 2021. 

While SHC is generally supportive of FAFSA completion legislation, we are concerned that unaccompanied homeless youth and foster youth may be unintentionally exempted from FAFSA completion requirements without getting any information about their ability to apply for financial aid as an independent student due to their homeless or foster care status, or without getting any assistance to complete the FAFSA. 

SHC has been supporting the Michigan bill, SB 463, which is noteworthy as the only bill (so far) that requires school districts to certify compliance with the McKinney-Vento Act provisions requiring homeless liaisons to inform unaccompanied youth of their status as independent students for the FAFSA, and provide information to schools on the ability of unaccompanied youth and former foster care youth on to complete the FAFSA as independent students. The bill has passed the state Senate and is now before the House Committee on Education.

As for the other states, Pennsylvania SB 750 has passed the Senate and now is being studied by the House Education Committee. Similarly, the Massachusetts House Ways and Means Committee is considering H. 4269, and in New York, the FAFSA completion bill S.1983 is included in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed fiscal year 2025 executive budget.

Postsecondary Student Support:

New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont

Advocates in New York and Pennsylvania are advocating for legislation to provide greater support for students experiencing homelessness on college campuses. 

SHC has been working with Young Invincibles, and other advocates to advance S4247, S4248 and A4029, which would designate higher education homelessness liaisons and pilot an initiative to better connect homeless students to basic needs resources on City University of New York (CUNY) campuses. 

SHC is also working in coalition with the National Network for Youth, the Homeless Children’s Education Fund, the American Bar Association’s Commission on Homelessness and Poverty, Western PA Continuum of Care, and others on higher education policy reform in Pennsylvania. The coalition is supporting passage of HB 729 which would give priority to students experiencing homelessness for on-campus housing, and HB 1175, which would create a pilot program aimed at improving food security, technology access and basic needs support. These bills are working their way through the committee process. 

The Vermont General Assembly is considering H.717, which would require postsecondary schools in Vermont to designate an official liaison to support students experiencing homelessness and former foster care youth. The bill also calls for the development of priority housing and class enrollment options, and fee waivers for those students. The bill is still before the House Committee on Education.

Removing Barriers to Health Care:

Wisconsin, Michigan

SHC continues working in the Midwest with the Wisconsin Association for Homeless and Runaway Services (WAHRS), and the Michigan Network for Youth and Families and Michigan’s Children to improve access to health care by providing unaccompanied minors the ability to consent to their own medical care and treatment. HB 4087 would allow more youth experiencing homelessness in Michigan to get the care that they need, and similar legislation in Wisconsin, companion bills AB 729/SB 704, are currently under committee review. 

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