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House Passes Yarmuth's ‘Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act'

5-year reauthorization legislation grew out of community-wide effort in Louisville

For video of Rep. Yarmuth's floor statemnt, click here.

(Washington, DC) Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 5524, the Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act, introduced by Congressman John Yarmuth (KY-3) this past March.  The major five-year reauthorization bill will strengthen the main source of federal funding for disconnected youth outside of the foster care and juvenile justice system.  It will also create a nation-wide network to prevent youth from falling through cracks in the system.

“This legislation is a testament to the tremendous initiative that has come out of Louisville in providing services and support for young people who have nowhere else to turn,” Congressman Yarmuth said.  “For more than a million children each year, this legislation could mean the difference between continuing to live on the streets without hope and finding a path to independent adulthood that begins with a place to call home.”

“We must do everything we can to help homeless and runaway youth be safe and healthy and receive the services they need to become productive, successful members of our society – whether that means returning to school, reuniting with their families, or becoming part of the nation’s workforce,” said U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. “I commend Rep. Yarmuth for his hard work on this legislation, which will provide shelter, protection, and valuable support to hundreds of thousands of young Americans.”

This legislation reauthorizes and strengthens the federal runaway and homeless youth programs for five years, authorizing an increase of over 50 percent more than last year; $150 million for residential services and $3 million for runaway prevention.  The measure will improve outreach and preventative care, establish emergency management plans, and develop a national runaway and homeless youth research and evaluation agenda.

“The strengthened Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act comes at a critical time as our nation’s families are increasingly stressed at the gas pump, at the grocery and otherwise,” said Sandy Bowen, executive director of National Safe Place, which has helped Louisville set the national standard for disconnected youth services.  “This funding source allows youth-serving agencies across the country to continue to provide the support that young people and their families desperately need.”

Today’s landmark event is the latest in a year-long effort to bring added services to disconnected youth.  Last June, Yarmuth hosted a national forum on runaway and homeless youth, which brought more than 100 youth service organizations, experts, and advocates to Louisville to collaborate and offer input in the crafting of the legislation.  That same month, Yarmuth testified before the House Ways & Means Committee alongside Grammy Nominee, Jewel—once homeless herself, to discuss funding levels for services to America’s unaccompanied youth.  The following month, Congressman Yarmuth brought Louisvillian, Rusty Booker, a former runaway to testify at Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities hearing on “Runaway, Homeless, and Missing Children: Perspectives on Helping the Nation’s Vulnerable Youth.” 

“I had no family and no home and at this point, no future,” Rusty said in his testimony.  “When I got to the shelter the staff welcomed me. I felt safe for the first time in many years.” Rusty, now 18, is working toward his GED and plans to attend college soon.

“Each day we meet four or five new Rustys, and each year we serve approximately 800 kids and their families through our shelter,” said Bill Thompson, residential case manager for YMCA Safe Place Services, who accompanied Rusty to Washington and first began working with him in 2002.  “Reauthorizing RHYA will allow us to not only better the services that already exist, but will allow us and other agencies across the country to serve more kids just like Rusty every year.”

The bill now heads to the Senate where Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Arlen Specter have sponsored companion legislation, which is expected to come to be considered this summer.

Statement of Rep. Yarmuth: Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act (06/09/0801:45 PMET )