Cortese: Support our foster youth in a post-coronavirus world
Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese spoke to reporters at the County Government Building Friday. Photo by Katie Lauer.

We are living in an unprecedented time that has forced a paradigm shift upon us. There is an understanding among many across the globe that we are all dealing with the same obstacle.

For most of us, life has been stalled by the COVID-19 virus. Daily luxuries, which may have been taken for granted, have been replaced by physical distancing guidelines and a will to secure only the most basic necessities to protect us from a fast-moving and indiscriminate virus.

The ability to go back to work, send our children to school, or even the freedom to wander downtown to enjoy a cup of coffee with friends, all feel elusive. This may feel isolating, but the majority of Americans rest easier knowing that a return to normalcy may not be too far away.

But not if you are a foster care youth. 

For young adults, ages 21 to 24, who are transitioning out of foster care, the most basic luxuries and necessities will feel even more out of reach in a post-pandemic world.

This is why Santa Clara County needs a basic income program for transition-aged foster care youth. It is a first step toward giving these young people the tools they need to build a fulfilling and self-sustaining life. An idea I introduced earlier this year, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors as a pilot program, will provide foster care youth with a stipend of $1,000 a month that youth could apply toward housing, utilities, groceries and other needs. Individuals will be paired with service providers and strategic public and private partners experienced with mentoring to assist them into self-sufficiency. The board will vote on greenlighting this pilot program this Tuesday.

Foster care youth are already a fragile demographic. Their early years are often marked by violence, trauma and poverty. Years after transitioning, they show residual signs of emotional and behavioral disturbance. Once emerged from foster care, they must quickly begin the difficult process of establishing themselves, typically without the safety net of family and close friends. Will they find affordable housing or be reduced to sofa stints for months and years? Can they continue their education or are they doomed to decades of minimum wage employment?

The basic income pilot program I proposed will help these young people to not have to settle for less than what they deserve. Particularly in a post COVID-19 world, economic mobility will be slow for many, and even more pronounced for these youth. This program will give foster youth the tools they need to be successful to help them achieve parity in education, employment and income.

Basic income programs show great promise. Studies have indicated that such payments can reduce poverty, improve health and increase educational opportunities. The city of Stockton has undertaken a similar program with encouraging results.

The pilot program will continuously monitor how well the stipend has supported foster care youth in terms of educational achievement, financial fluency and job training.

We are not all feeling the effects of this pandemic equally. As we deal with the day-to-day of this virus, we must not forget to look ahead. Young people are our future. Giving them the tools they need to succeed and thrive is our responsibility. There can be no clearer opportunity to meet this duty than the chance to support our foster youth through this difficult transition.

Dave Cortese has served on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors for more than a decade with four years as board president. Prior to this, Cortese served eight years on the San Jose City Council, including two years as vice mayor.

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