New Economy and New Opportunities for Foster Youth

So often, policy discussions are focused on the what — deductions, credits, bill numbers. But when it comes to combating opioids and human trafficking, rolling back regulations, reforming the tax code, and growing the economy, House Republicans are focused on the why — men, women, and young people all across this country who have dreams and goals, but for too long have had rules and institutions trapping them in the status quo.

A big reminder of this why visited Capitol Hill last week, as several foster care alumni joined members of Congress for the annual shadow day. Since the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth formed in 2012, this annual shadow day has been an incredible opportunity for foster care alumni to meet their representatives, and for us to listen. Each year, we are reminded of the progress we’ve made together — and how much more still needs to be done.

Chair McMorris Rodgers on Foster Youth Shadow Day 2017 with Cristian, who aged out of the foster care system and became an advocate for his sister.

One major step forward, and an opportunity for further change, comes with our Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (learn more by visiting

Of the more than 23,000 children who age out of foster care each year, only half of them are estimated to find gainful employment by age 24.

Fortunately, our economy is improving. Nationally, unemployment across demographics is at a record low. Wages are increasing for millions. In March, there were a record 6.6 million job openings, and 27 percent of small business owners and 77 percent of manufacturers plan to use tax savings to hire, providing underrepresented communities, like foster alumni, greater opportunities to join the workforce.

Between 35 and 60 percent of foster children have at least one chronic medical condition, and about 40 to 60 percent have at least one mental health disorder. 25 percent suffer from PTSD, on par with returning war veterans. There are stigmas and challenges to overcome, but for our foster youth, a disability doesn’t need to be a dead end.

For foster youth with disabilities, under the new tax code, there are significant updates to ABLE accounts. While an adult will have to help foster youth set up their accounts (an issue we also need to address), these accounts are designed to help individuals save money for expenses related to their disabilities and live more independent lives.

An ABLE beneficiary who earns income for a job is able to save up to the Federal Poverty Level, which is currently $12,060, in addition to their annual contribution limit of $14,000. This will be really helpful for individuals with disabilities who want to work but feel they cannot save for the future without jeopardizing their existing benefits.

On top of this, the ABLE to Work Act makes ABLE account contributions eligible for what’s known as the “Saver’s Credit.” This little-known tax credit allows individuals to take a credit of up to $2,000, or $4,000 if filing jointly, to save more money. If you’re low income, the more you save, the more credit you claim.

We have more work to do. But as we continue reforming and improving the foster care system so that every child has safety and stability, there is reason for hope. We want everyone in this country, including our foster youth, to have the opportunity for a better life and the chance to pursue their version of the American Dream.

As Foster Care Month has come to a close, I wanted to share with you what our colleagues learned on Foster Youth Shadow Day: