On January 27, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act (RHYTPA), S. 262. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) joined as original cosponsors. S. 262 would reauthorize the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA), which expired on September 30, 2013. Senators Leahy and Collins introduced a similar measure last year that earned bipartisan support in the Senate Judiciary Committee but stalled in the Senate.
Under RHYTPA, communities awarded grants through the Basic Center Program (BCP) would be required to increase the length of stay for temporary housing from 21 to 30 days, and extend their services to include the families of affected youth. BCP programs, administered by the Department of Health and Human Service’s Administration for Children and Families (ACF), would also be required to coordinate with outreach programs that build relationships with affected youth and refer them to service providers. In addition, programs would have to maintain records of the demographic characteristics of the youth they serve.
Communities awarded grants through the Transitional Living Program (TLP), another ACF program, would have to provide educational assistance, job training, and healthcare; set up a referral system for mental health care; and track and report the demographics of the youth they serve.
Current law allows nonprofit private agencies to receive grants to provide services to runaway and homeless youth who have suffered, or are at risk of suffering, sexual abuse, violence, trafficking, or exploitation. The proposed measure would allow public agencies to also receive grants for sexual abuse prevention.
Importantly, RHYTPA includes a new provision that prohibits grantees from denying services based on the sexual orientation or gender identity of the homeless youth.
RHYTPA would authorize funds for a national study to determine the prevalence and characteristics of runaway and homeless youth in order to tailor service programs to fit the need. State and local governments and private groups would be eligible for grants to conduct any projects that could increase knowledge and improve services. In addition, RHYTPA would include an initiative to develop performance standards with the collaboration of grantees and experts in order to better evaluate the effectiveness of programs.
As proposed, RHYTPA would set funding levels at $140 million per year for general programs, $25 million per year for the sexual abuse prevention program, and $2 million per year for the national study.
Regarding the bill’s introduction, Senator Leahy said, “Homelessness is on the rise for youths and young adults. Too many young people…around the country find themselves without safe places to sleep at night. These programs, offering outreach and early intervention for runaway and homeless teens, are the last line of defense for teens in crisis. Youth homelessness also can be a pipeline to chronic homelessness, victimization, sexual exploitation and trafficking in urban and rural communities. It’s our job in Congress to do what we can to counter this tragic reality, this scandal in the shadows.”
Senator Collins also voiced her concern, saying, “Despite the recent decline we have seen in chronic homelessness, there are still more than 1.6 million homeless teens in the United States. As Chairman of the Housing Appropriations Subcommittee, one of my goals is to address chronic homelessness. We must make sure our nation’s homeless youth have the same opportunity to succeed as other youth. The programs reauthorized by this bill are critical in helping homeless youth stay off the street and find stable, sustainable housing.”
The text of S. 262 is at http://www.leahy.senate.gov/download/kin15024
Senator Leahy’s media release is at http://www.leahy.senate.gov/press/leahy-collins-introduce-bipartisan-legislation-to-combat-youth-homelessness-and-trafficking