SunSentinel.com, April 5, 2010, by Akilah Johnson , Fort Lauderdale-
If the state slashes Tamarra Lestage's only safety net — a monthly stipend given to former foster children — she'll become homeless.
Lestage, 21, of Fort Lauderdale, is a full-time student who became a ward of the state at 13. Since she turned 18, she's lived in 11 different places, including homeless shelters. She worries she'll return to the streets if the Legislature cuts the Road to Independence stipend by more than half — to $675 a month.
About half a dozen "aged out" foster children gathered Monday at an independent living support center in Fort Lauderdale to discuss the harsh reality of transitioning from ward of the state to self-sufficiency during a recession.
"When I hit rock bottom, there isn't a mom or dad" to help out, said Mez Pierre, 22, head of the Broward Chapter of Florida Youth SHINE, a statewide child-advocacy group made up of these 18- to 23-year-olds. "It would be hard to find a place to live. If you do, it's like a double-edge sword because you can't buy food and can't pay electricity. You're left to be desperate and do desperate things."
The young people, who are full-time students, now get up to $1,250 a month from the state for rent, utility bills, transportation costs and groceries. But the Florida Legislature wants to slash their stipends to help plug a $3.2 billion budget shortfall.
Youth SHINE's mission: to let lawmakers know how the former foster kids are affected by legislation.
By law, the state must ensure foster children who turn 18 "make the transition to self-sufficiency as adults." The Road to Independence scholarship program provides them a maximum of $1,250 a month, which is equal to 40 hours at federal minimum wage.
To be eligible, students must be enrolled in an educational or vocational training program.
The House recently passed a bill, HCA-4, that cuts the stipend and prorates it over 30 days, so students no longer receive the full amount on their 18th birthday.
On April 13, the proposed cut will be part of the budget appropriations discussion between the House and Senate.
The Florida's independent living services receives a little more than $35 million, including almost $10 million in federal money. The problem, however, is the community-based care organizations that operate the programs say they cost $48.4 million and require the use of unspent state funds and monies redirected from other foster care services.
Akilah Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4527.
Original article, retrieved on April 6th, 2010