Commentary: An Ounce of Prevention

By Bonnie Lowenthal
54th District Assembly Member

It may sound trite, but it’s absolutely true: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
That’s why you should eat right and exercise.
That’s why you should change your oil and rotate your tires.
And that is why I’ve introduced a bill that would give federally funded food stamps to foster youth when they “age out of the system.”
We need to give a little extra help to these young people who need it.
The way it works now, when a foster child turns 18, the state’s legal and financial responsibility for them ends.
That leaves many young people struggling with adult responsibilities, and all too often finding their skills and preparation inadequate.
Researchers say nearly a third of the 4,400 foster youth who turn 18 this year will end up homeless for at least part of their first year as adults. And that’s just the beginning. Former foster youth face a mountain of challenges.
Recent studies have shown that fewer than 40 percent of foster youth have at least $250 of their own money when they leave the state’s care. Nearly half have not completed high school. About 65 percent have no place to live when they leave their foster home. On average, they make only about $6,000 a year, and nearly half have periods of unemployment within their first four years as an adult.
Perhaps the most troubling statistic: more than 70 percent of state penitentiary inmates have spent at least some time in the foster care system, according to government studies.
We absolutely must do better. These children are our future. The more we prepare them to succeed, the more likely we are to share in the benefits of their successes. And I don’t just mean the taxes they will pay, but also the contributions they will make, the work they will do, the likelihood that they will raise healthy children full of promise.
Of course my bill is not the only one dealing with this crucial need. There are many others, including one that would allow foster children to remain in state-funded care until they are 21.
A key concept in my bill and in many others is that it is designed to use federal money, so that it doesn’t put any pressure on California’s already over-strained general fund. The bill would seek a federal waiver to provide the benefit, and makes clear that the food stamps could be made available only with federal dollars.
Even if we manage to develop a system in which young people can receive foster care until their 21st birthday, we know from other states that a large percentage of them will still leave the system when they are 18.
The point of my bill is that the state should do its best to make sure that their first year on their own is not a year of abandonment, but instead a genuine year of transition, with at least some modicum of support that most other children enjoy as they grow into adulthood.
The price is small— and borne almost entirely by the federal government— and the benefits are significant. It really is an ounce of prevention worth many pounds of cure.