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Yarmuth, Jewel Testify on the Need for Greater Services for Disconnected Youth

Yarmuth’s Legislation: A Crucial Step Forward

(Washington, DC) In the Committee on Ways and Means hearing on Disconnected and Disadvantaged Youth, Congressman John Yarmuth (KY-3) and Jewel testified on the need for increased services for the nation’s runaway and homeless young people.

Congressman Yarmuth is currently working on legislation to reauthorize the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, which provides the main source of federal funding for disconnected youth outside of the foster care and juvenile justice system.

Jewel is a Grammy nominated singer/song who experienced homelessness in as a teenager.

Text of Yarmuth’s statement and video of his and Jewel’s testimonies can be found below.

Chairman McDermott, Ranking Member Weller, and Colleagues:

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today at this hearing on Disconnected and Disadvantaged Youth. As a member of the Education and Labor Committee, I, like you, have a high level of interest in youth who are detached from family, school, work, and any sort of permanency. Our missions are similar, and I look forward to finding common ground where our committees can work together to address the life challenges of our nation’s disconnected youth.

Before coming to Washington, I volunteered a considerable amount of time at organizations that work with disconnected youth.  We are fortunate in my hometown of Louisville to house some of the finest services for disconnected youth in the nation with the headquarters for National Safe Place and Boys’ Haven.  There, I saw first hand the hardships and devastation resulting from homelessness. 

My experiences with these agencies and Kentucky’s disconnected youth have served as a reminder that homelessness is more than a collection of sociological and economic data—as it sometimes ends up being viewed here in the halls of Congress—but a myriad of human stories.  I am thankful that Jewel and DeCario Whitfield are here today to share some of those stories with us, to help us understand that of the three million children who run away or experience homelessness each year, each one has a story of abuse: physical, psychological, or emotional.  And each child is in need of structure, stability, and permanency.

Unfortunately, despite the superb work of organizations across the country, we are failing these children at every turn.  The funds and personnel to accommodate the bare necessities of so many Americans in need have simply not been made available.  We must explore and implement measures to incentivize careers that provide these badly needed services to our communities.  Last week, in the Education and Labor Committee, we adopted an amendment to the College Cost Reduction Act that will incentivize such work with $1,000 in loan forgiveness each year for five years. I believe that this measure is a good start, but there is far more to do to build an infrastructure capable of responding to the pandemic problem of disconnected youth.

As I have found working with Congresswoman McCarthy on the reauthorization of the Runaway Homeless Youth Act, the story gets much worse once one realizes that the failings are not limited to just funding and personnel; the necessary infrastructure is simply not in place.  The upside is that we are in a position to change that if we focus our energy in the right areas.  Luckily for us, the deficiencies are glaring and practically begging us to step in.

For example: We have little to no ability to monitor success of programs serving disconnected youth.  Homeless youth enter these systems temporarily and then leave.  There is currently no comprehensive system linking juvenile courts, foster care, homeless shelters, schools, hospitals, and social service providers, so we don’t know where they go, and we don’t offer services once they have gone; they are simply out of the system—disconnected once more.  We must do more than just contain these children while we have them.  They have come into the system lost, reaching out, and we must set them on a path to adulthood prepared for the workplace and ready for the world, without dragging the dead weight of a history of neglect.

They also face a hurdle that won’t surprise anyone here because it is consistent with one out of six Americans: No access to healthcare.  With our nation’s disconnected youth we are talking about children often living in unsanitary conditions, many the victims of abuse, and all of whom are in need of care.  At a minimum, we have an obligation to tend to the health of these children, whether through Medicaid or other means.  Providing healthcare to these three million American children cannot be treated as an option any longer.

In my three minute assessment of the failings in the area of disconnected youth, the hurdles may seem insurmountable.  But we cannot let ourselves get so caught up in the distance we have to go that we become too intimidated to take the next step forward.

In our reauthorization of the Runaway Homeless Youth Act, we’ve taken steps to help children prepare for adulthood with a Transitional Living Program that teaches homeless 15 to 18-year-olds the basics: cooking, laundry, financial literacy and the basics of finding a job.  The legislation also tackles the absolute basics, with the National Switchboard to provide help by phone or email to those who need it, the Basic Center Program that gives young people a place to stay while they reintegrate with their families, and the Street Outreach Program that will very simply make connections with kids on the streets.

It is my hope that our committees can work together to make a much stronger and broader impact, by exploring the possibilities of expanding Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to include disconnected youth who have children, fully utilizing the Social Service Block Grants to fund organizations that help foster children and runaways, and ensuring that children are tapping into federal welfare services that will help these young Americans prepare to face the world.

Ultimately, we need to consolidate our resources and services for the disconnected so that they no longer get lost in the system while seeking services.  A homeless shelter can be more than a place to stay and eat a meal; it can be a place to access comprehensive services like healthcare, education, economic assistance, and job-training.  When these scattered services can be found under one roof, we will truly be offering a path to housing, employment, and independence.

As we move forward together on issues facing disconnected youth, I hope that we all feel not only the urgency to act, but that we also share a sense of optimism for what we can accomplish together on behalf of youth in every corner of America.  I look forward to the reauthorization of the Runaway Homeless Youth Act, the findings of this hearing, and future progress we take in this institution.  Thank you.