With hearings wrapping up in the Nebraska Legislature, many important issues involving children in foster care have been considered. As the senators move into full day floor debate, we want to highlight a few of our Child Welfare Program priority bills and what they can do for Nebraska’s children in foster care and young adults aging out of the system.
LB 566 would strengthen and clarify Nebraska’s responsibilities in regard to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and address the disproportionate number of native children in foster care. LB 566 would also encourage a connection between families and their tribal culture when they are involved in the child welfare system. Of the many who testified in support of LB 566 at February’s public hearing, Jill Holt, who represented the Nebraska ICWA Coalition, stated that this bill was the “gold standard” in maintaining ties to culture that keep native families together. LB 566 was introduced by Senator Colby Coash, prioritized by the State Tribal Relationships Committee, and will soon be voted on by the Judiciary Committee.
Specifically, LB 566 does four main things:
- Helps define key components of ICWA
- Clarifies portions of ICWA
- Ensures that tribes have a voice and promote state-tribal relationships
- Modernizes ICWA
With implementation of the Bridge to Independence (B2I) program in full swing, many young adults are now getting necessary services and support as they transition out of the foster care system. LB 441, introduced by Senator Kate Bolz, makes some needed changes to the B2I program by implementing lessons learned and recommendations from the B2I Advisory Committee and other system stakeholders. Even though there was overwhelming support for these changes at the legislative hearing for LB 441, and the bill was voted out of the Health and Human Services Committee, LB 441 did not receive a designation as a “priority bill” but is currently on general file awaiting debate from the full Legislature.
The changes to the B2I program include:
- Giving young adults who entered a guardianship from foster care at age 16 or older the option to participate in the B2I program or the extended guardianship assistance program.
- Clarifying that young people in B2I are also eligible for medical assistance.
- Reducing timelines and minimizing disruption for young people as they age out.
- Implementing other stakeholder recommendations to include tribally adjudicated youth, to strengthen the transitional hearing, and to ensure confidentiality.
A recent interim study indicated that only 3 percent of Nebraska’s likely eligible young adults were being covered under the Affordable Care Act provision that allows former foster youth to have health coverage through Medicaid until age 26.
LB 148, introduced by Senator Sue Crawford, would strengthen the application process and ensure that young adults in Nebraska who left the system can get the coverage they need for a healthy transition into adulthood. LB 148 has not been voted out of the Health and Human Services Committee and has not been prioritized. If the Legislature does not act on LB 148 this year, the bill will be held in the Committee to be considered again next year.
LB 148 will:
- Streamline enrollment for youth as they age out of foster care.
- Cover young people who age out of foster care in another state and move to Nebraska.
- Improve outreach and track enrollment.
As these bills progress through the Nebraska Legislature, we urge you to contact your senators and let them know the importance of supporting children in foster care!