A Bipartisan Baby Step

When I received the invite to attend Monday evening’s Capitol Hill dinner celebrating progress on legislation supporting the needs of foster care youth, I was a bit surprised by the nature of the bill. Of all the needs of foster care youth, particularly those who are aging out of the system, getting a driver’s license, and owning a car were not at the top of my priority list. However, after listening to several young adults with lived experience, I understand why getting this bill through Congress (always fingers crossed) will positively change the lives of thousands of young people trying to get a foothold on a productive life.

Having spent most of my adult life in New York City, owning a car was not nearly a necessity for young people who often found the subway and other mass transit the preferred means of travel because parking can be a severe headache. But for young people living in the suburbs and rural areas, not having an automobile could be the difference in getting and holding a job, completing your education, and participating in other meaningful activities. For foster youth, there usually is no access to the family car and there are many barriers to getting a driver’s license, auto insurance, and purchasing a vehicle.

The Foster Youth and Driving Act was reintroduced in the current 117th Congress in June as H.R. 7932 by Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-IL-7). One key to the bill’s potential for passage into law is having gotten Republican Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE-2) to sign on as a cosponsor. Both Davis and Bacon are members of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth (CCFY), founded and now co-chaired by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA-37). According to the CCFY website 12 of its 71 members are Republican, making it one of the more bipartisan Congressional Member Organizations. Rep. Bass was unable to attend but sent representatives from her office.

CRISP was invited to the dinner because of the work of our Policy Director Dr. Angelique Day who drafted the original bill while serving in Rep. Davis’s office as a Society for Research in Child Development Congressional Fellow in 2017. There are currently six cosponsors listed on Congress.gov—four Democrats and two Republicans. CRISP has sent a letter to Congresswoman Barbara Lee, chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus, asking her to invite members of the caucus to sign on as cosponsors.

The bill will go a long way in helping young people in and aging out of foster care get the transportation they need to open the door to opportunity. It will provide funding to states to support the cost of insurance, driver’s education classes, testing fees, and other costs required to obtain a license and legally drive in the state. Benefits would be capped at $4,000 per year per individual and would not count against receiving other benefits from the government.

There were many heroines and heroes attending Monday evening’s dinner. Reps. Davis and Bacon were joined by fellow CCFY member Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA-37). Representatives from numerous child welfare agencies and advocacy groups attended including Cortez Carey, executive director of the CCFY, and Gerry Glenn and Sarah Nemes from Florida-based Embrace Families, all who were responsible for organizing the event. Tashawn Devile, representing Treehouse for Kids; Martavius (Marty) Lowery, from Embrace Families; and Frederick Ryan Poole, representing Think of Us, participated in a panel discussion by young adults with lived experience. Ms. Devile told how obtaining a car transformed her life and allowed her to move up the education ladder. Mr. Lowery told how a program at his agency rescued him from a $400 monthly auto insurance premium.

If there was a standout, it was Sixto Cancel, founder and chief executive officer of Think of Us who is having a profound impact on the living conditions of young people with foster care experience. As an individual who grew up in and aged out of the foster care system, he is harnessing the power of foster care youth telling their stories. You can put up all the numbers—and they present a compelling argument—but when you listen to the often heart-wrenching stories of young people who were shunted from one dysfunctional placement to another, stories of siblings being torn apart, and then hear the voices of the few who triumphed despite the trauma, you must pay attention to efforts to salvage the lives of the many who struggle.

Monday evening’s event might be considered a baby step towards bipartisanship and welcomed evidence that Congress can get things done for people despite its current hyperpartisanship. Once again, it is young people leading the way knowing their lives and the future of our society literally hang in the balance. They say lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way. Obstruction for obstruction’s sake is not a game plan. 

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