The clock is ticking for the so-called "cliff youth," hundreds of young adults in California who grew up in the foster care system but aged out during the pandemic.
Extension of their benefits was first enacted at the beginning of the pandemic in April 2020. The state legislature has extended it twice, but now that extension is set to expire on Dec. 31.
Former foster youth Sarah Pauter now runs a nonprofit, Phenomenal Families, helping others who grew up in the child welfare system. Pauter has serious concerns about what will happen to the cliff youth at the end of the year.
"There's a group of young people who will no longer receive monthly payments that they've depended on for years,” she said. “They're no longer going to receive case management support from child welfare services and, in some instances, they're going to have to move and find somewhere else to live."
Pauter said the pandemic was especially devastating for 18 to 21-year-olds who are part of California’s extended foster care program. She said in many cases people lost jobs, and without a family support system it was a challenge for them to meet even basic needs without supplemental help from the state.
Pauter said the expiration of benefits at the end of the year has the potential to create an immediate housing crisis for a large group of vulnerable young adults. It’s a situation Pauter understands personally.
“There's a reason they're being called 'cliff youth,'” she said. "We have an entire backlog of young people who are about to very abruptly age out of foster care. In many instances, like we hear about and as I experienced, they're going to end up couch-surfing or living in their car."
In a written statement, Sarah Sweeney, a spokesperson for San Diego County’s Health and Human Services Agency said “To date, CWS has engaged over 184 young adults who are aging out on or by December 31, 2021.”
Sweeney pointed out that the county works with multiple housing contractors to provide transitional housing for young adults. Those programs, she said, provide up to 36 cumulative months of subsidized housing for current and former foster youth ages 18 to 24 years old.