Senators move toward more help to former foster children

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April 5, 2013 - 4:54pm

Nebraska lawmakers took a step Friday toward helping young people who “age out” of the state’s foster care system, and also moved to put state contracts online.

When young people age out of the foster care system at age 19, unless they’re going to college full time, they are generally on their own. And considering they have come from backgrounds where the state has removed them from their own families’ homes because of problems there, that can set them up for trouble.

In debate Friday, Lincoln Sen. Amanda McGill ticked off some grim statistics: 70 percent of women are pregnant by 21 or 62 percent have two pregnancies by that age if they aged out of foster care. Eighty percent of young men aging out will be arrested at least once and 60 percent will be convicted of a crime, she said.

Nationally, she said, about 20 percent wind up homeless. McGill wants to address that by offering help, including housing subsidies, to 19 and 20 year olds who age out of the system.

Under her proposal, young people who live on their own could get up to $500 a month; in college dorms, up to $675 a month, and in group homes, up to $1,445. They could also get advice on things like applying for jobs, opening bank accounts, and getting heath care. McGill estimated the program could help around 175 young people at a cost of about $1.4 million over the next two years.

Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash said he supports the idea. But Coash warned it will have to compete with other desirable spending as senators decide on the budget over the next two months. “I’m going to challenge us to decide where we want to best put our resources. I don’t want to get to the situation at the end of the session where everybody’s willing to take what they can get so we can feel like we did something, and we didn’t address the core issues,” Coash declared.

One key question affecting the cost of the bill is what percentage of young people who are eligible will sign up to receive services. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services assumes 50 percent will, but McGill said that’s high. Senators gave the bill first-round approval on a vote of 28-1, and a new cost estimate is now expected.

On another matter, senators gave second-round approval to a bill by Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue to require posting state contracts online, starting next year. There are exceptions for contracts providing individuals with assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services, the University of Nebraska and state colleges, and the  Department of Veterans Affairs, along with energy loans and state employee contracts.   

And senators discussed but took no vote on a proposal by Sen. Ernie Chambers to debate a bill repealing permission for cities to raise sales taxes. The Legislature voted last year to allow cities to increase sales taxes to 2 cents on the dollar, from the previous limit of one and a half cents, provided voters agree. That is on top of the 5.5 cents the state charges. So far, only Sidney, Alma and Waterloo have approved increases, while Bellevue and Nebraska City have rejected them.

 The repeal bill remains bottled up in the Revenue Committee, but Chambers said he might try again to get it debated by the full Legislature.

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