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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 14, 1999

                           December 14, 1999

President Clinton today will sign into law the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999. This legislation, based on an initiative proposed by the President and the First Lady, will help ensure that young people who leave foster care get the tools they need to make the most of their lives. It empowers those leaving foster care by providing them better educational opportunities, access to health care, training, housing assistance, counseling and other services. The new law is only the latest instance of the Administration's longstanding commitment to children and families.

FOSTER CARE YOUTH FACE CHALLENGES AS THEY ENTER ADULTHOOD. Nearly 20,000 young people leave foster care each year when they reach age 18 without an adoptive family or other guardian. Without the emotional, social and financial support that families provide, many of these youth find themselves inadequately prepared for life on their own. Studies show that within two to four years of leaving foster care, only half have completed high school, fewer than half are employed, one-fourth have been homeless for at least one night, 30 percent do not have access to needed health care, 60 percent of the women have given birth, and less than one in five are completely self-supporting.

NEW LEGISLATION PROVIDES NEW HOPE FOR THESE YOUTH. Under previous laws, federal financial support for these young people ended just as they were making the transition to independence. The Act the President will sign today authorizes $700 million over five years to help these young people cross this critical bridge:

Doubling the Federal Independent Living Program. The Independent Living program, run through the states, helps older foster care children earn a high school diploma, participate in vocational training or education, and learn daily living skills such as budgeting, career planning and securing housing and employment. Today's new law doubles the program's funding to $140 million per year, and invests $350 million more over five years in these services. Under the new law, states are now required to serve youth up to 21 years old, enabling more young people to obtain a college education. It also enables states to provide time-limited financial assistance to help these youth with living expenses as they develop the skills and education needed to move successfully into the workforce. The Act the President will sign today also renames the program in honor of John Chafee, the late Senator who so effectively championed the needs of children.

Providing Health Insurance. Today, when young people emancipate from foster care, they face numerous health risks, but too often lose their health insurance. The new law grants states the option for these young people to remain eligible for Medicaid up to age 21. Today, HHS will issue guidance to all State Medicaid Directors encouraging them to take up this option.

Honoring America's Heroes. In an unrelated provision, the Act provides a special monthly cash benefit to Filipino veterans who served under the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II if they were eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and later choose to move outside the United States. Previously, Filipino veterans who were eligible to receive SSI benefits would lose them if they were to return to the Philippines.

A RECORD OF ACCOMPLISHMENT FOR FOSTER CARE AND ADOPTION. With today's new law, the Administration adds to an unprecedented record of promoting the well-being of children and providing them permanent, loving homes. In 1998 there were a record 36,000 adoptions from foster care, the first significant increase in the history of the program. From 1996 to 1998, the number of adoptions nationwide rose 29 percent -- from 28,000 to 36,000 -- and is on a pace to meet the President's goal of 56,000 adoptions in 2002. Among the President's other steps to improve child welfare and encourage adoption:

Increasing the Transitional Living Program. Last month the President secured in the budget agreement a 40 percent increase in the Transitional Living program, which provides funds to local community-based organizations for residential care, life skills training, and other support services to homeless adolescents. The program will now be funded at $20.7 million.

Enacting the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. Based on the Administration's Adoption 2002 report, this landmark law made the health and safety of children a clear priority, provided the first-ever financial incentives for states to increase adoptions, tightened the time frames for making permanent placements of children, and removed other barriers to adoption.

Making Adoption Affordable. In 1996, President Clinton enacted a $5,000 tax credit for families adopting children, and a $6,000 tax credit for families adopting children with special needs. In the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, the President provided more support for families who adopt with a $500 per-child tax credit. And under the Family and Medical Leave Act, parents can take time with a newly adopted child without losing their jobs or health insurance.

Breaking Down Racial and Ethnic Barriers to Adoption. New inter-ethnic adoption provisions signed into law by the President ensure that the adoption process is free from discrimination and delays on the basis of race, culture and ethnicity.

Giving States Flexibility and Support. The Clinton Administration has given 25 states waivers to test innovative strategies for improving state child welfare systems. The Administration has provided states technical support to improve court operations and grants to support local adoption projects, and has also secured federal funding for the Promoting Safe and Stable Families program to serve at-risk children and families.

Using the Internet to Promote Adoption. In November 1998, the President issued a directive to the Department of Health and Human Services to expand the use of the Internet as a tool to find homes for children waiting to be adopted from foster care. HHS will develop a national Internet site by the year 2002.