Independent Living Stimulus Funding FAQ for CWA Partners

For youth re-entering / remaining in care

What would it look like for a youth to re-enter care? Can they only re-enter / remain in care until September 30, 2021? 

In addition to the memo,  DCF developed a policy guidance document for stakeholders - it's linked here  for reference. In Wisconsin, a youth's re-entry into care (via court ordered OHC placement or voluntary agreement under Wis.Stat. s. 48.64) is subject to existing requirements in state law, which does not permit youth to re-enter unless on an order.  For this reason, Wisconsin is adopting the feds’ flexible definition of foster care, as explained on the bottom of page 1 of the info memo. This flexibility applies to youth who have aged out of care, or will age out of care, during the period from January 27, 2020 through September 30, 2021. Wisconsin is effectively using the combination of supports via the regional Transition Resource Agencies (TRAs) specifically, which will provide direct financial assistance and offer case management and supportive services, as a proxy for youth re-entering care, in alignment with the feds’ flexible definition.

The memo states youth can re-enter foster care without extending the title IV-E agency placement and care to that youth while still providing monthly financial support, age-appropriate supervision, and case management services. Does that mean we do not have to open a placement in eWiSACWIS? What does it mean that we do not have to provide "care" (define care) if we are providing financial support, age - appropriate supervision, and case management?

Direct financial assistance and optional age-appropriate supervision and case management come from the TRAs. Wisconsin is effectively using that combination of supports via our regional IL service model as a proxy for youth re-entering care since our state law does not actually permit youth to do so unless on an order. Counties should think of "in care" as you always would; it is court ordered OHC placement because that is what is permitted according to state law. In Wisconsin, there is no change to who is in care or out of care from a county CWA perspective.

Can young adults who have reached 18 either remain in or enter a congregate care setting (group homes, residential care centers, etc.) absent a court order or voluntary agreement under Wis.Stat.s.48.63? Can stimulus funding be used to support those youth?

Nothing in the Pandemic Act prohibits the use of the funding and flexibilities for group homes and residential care centers (RCCs), and counties may contract with or enter into other written agreements with congregate care providers who want to serve youth 18 and older who do not have a court order or voluntary agreement under Wis. Stat. s. 48.63. Providers wanting to serve a youth in this position will need to ensure that any exceptions to DCF 52 or DCF 57 necessary to have a youth living in the facility are requested and approved by the Department before determining that a youth may live there. In addition, counties and providers should consult with their legal counsel to ensure they are meeting all legal requirements. The option to keep youth in a congregate care setting beyond age 18 and absent a court order or voluntary agreement under Wis. Stat. s. 48.63 is permitted only due to the flexibilities allowed in the Pandemic Act; those flexibilities expire on September 30, 2021

Youth who "age out" of a court-ordered IL-eligible placement setting at age 18 or older are categorically eligible for TRA services. The youth should be referred to the TRA for independent living supports and services.

A youth in extended out-of-home care is set to graduate soon but will have additional coursework to complete in summer 2021. Can the young person stay in care and/or could the county use stimulus funding to support this youth?

The county should consult the policy guidance about a youth staying in care to review the options for keeping young people in a placement if permissible, and it makes sense given their situation and their wants/needs. It is available via the youth aging out PDF or the Info Memo 2021-12i.

For example, a young person may participate in graduation ceremonies but still have some remaining schoolwork to complete before being officially done with school. The young person may stay in care and on an order through the end of that programming  (see page 2 of the policy guidance). Effectively, DCF wants counties to take the most generous possible interpretation of graduation compared to school ending to create options for the youth to remain in care. 

Once the young person finishes schoolwork, the county should close the placement. At that time, the youth would no longer be in care and no longer on an order. However, per Info Memo 2021-12i, and other parts of this FAQ document, the county can support the youth's living arrangement via a one-time housing support payment (for up to three months). The youth would no longer be in placement since the order is done, though they could still physically reside in that placement location (an important distinction). The Info Memo lays out the county's option to use funding in that way and links to the process counties use to request reimbursement from DCF.

As a reminder, a young person who ages out of court-ordered OHC will be eligible for IL services via the TRAs, so the county should be in contact with the regional Transition Resource Agency to determine next steps for the youth, should he want to access TRA supports. The memo speaks to this more and includes the IL eligibility guide for reference. 

Given the guidance in Info Memo 2021-12i, can the county grant temporary exceptions to DCF 57.19(1) and DCF 57.23(2)(a)13.a? Typically, these are rules that DCF cannot grant approval to because they are tied to 48.355(4)(b)(3).

Since DCF 57.19(1) does not specifically reference a voluntary agreement under s. 48.63, we are temporarily allowing youth to be admitted to a group home with a more general “written voluntary agreement” between a youth, provider, and county. There is still a requirement for a written voluntary agreement, but no need for an exception. Once the flexibilities expire on September 30, 2021, we will not interpret DCF 57.19(1) so broadly.

As far as DCF 57.23, there might be two options. First, there may not be a need to grant an exception to DCF 57.23(2)(a)13.a because it only applies to residents who are between 18-21 and full-time students. If a youth has already graduated, they are not eligible to be in extended out-of-home care. In the alternative, a group home provider could seek an exception to DCF 57.23(2) more generally, since a resident assessment and treatment plan may not be required for a youth who remains in/enters a group home under the Pandemic Act flexibilities—especially if the youth is working with a TRA.

A youth is set to age out of care in the middle of the month (e.g. June 15, 2021) and her foster family is willing to let her stay with them through the end of that month (e.g. June 30, 2021). How would the county handle payment for her placement at the home through that date?

This is exactly the type of situation DCF hopes the stimulus funding can support. Your county can follow the steps linked in Info Memo 2021-12i to provide financial support to the foster home from the time the youth “ages out” until the agreed upon last date that the youth can stay there. During that entire time, the youth is off an order and technically no longer in placement but is residing in the home. This support would be for housing needs, “rent, security deposits, utilities, and basic household supplies. Other expenses such as food, clothing, and transportation may also be covered if those needs cannot be met through other means.” Your county may continue to provide this type of support to this youth and others who age out between April 2021, and the discontinuation of funds (anticipated to be through at least September 2021) for up to three months per youth, should the foster home be open to (and the youth be in favor of) having the young person stay there longer. Perhaps without financial incentive that would not be an option for the foster family, but the hope is that with the financial support available via the stimulus funding it may be.

If a youth has a few days in between aging out and moving into housing (e.g. an apartment), would the county keep the youth in care for those few days or use stimulus funding to keep the youth in their existing placement (off an order) for those few days?

The latter is correct; placement should be closed on the date that the youth in no longer under a court order or voluntary agreement. Stimulus funds can be used to keep the youth in their placement on a short-term basis before transitioning to their more permanent housing situation.

Youth Eligibility

Can you explain what youth qualify for if they left care between January 27, 2020 and September 30, 2021?

The timeframe of January 27, 2020, and September 30, 2021, is relevant for direct financial assistance, which TRAs will provide. That support, along with optional case management and support services (offered via the TRAs), is required for youth who aged out during the timeframe (the “age out cohort”). The funds to counties to use for IL-eligible youth in care or who left care is not based on that timeframe. In fact, the supports counties provide to aged-out youth apply to a shorter timeframe (April 2021-September 2021, with the possibility for extension).

If the county is aware of a youth who aged out last year and may qualify for these supports, should the worker reach out to that young person and let them know?

If a worker is still connected to or has contact information for a young person who would likely qualify for the supports provided to youth who aged out since January 27, 2020, they can certainly connect with that young person. However, it is not expected at this stage. Each TRA has a list of youth who fall within the “age out cohort” and qualify for direct financial assistance; they will use those lists to reach out to qualifying young people and provide the assistance. It is possible that as part of their outreach efforts the TRAs contact their county partners to help track down a qualifying youth. That will likely happen later in 2021 and into early 2022 as TRAs ramp up their outreach efforts and have a better idea of which youth they struggle to reach.

Funds may be used for youth "while still in out-of-home-care placement." Can counties use funds for any youth who are IL eligible and not just those who age out between April 2021 - September 2021?

As included in the memo, counties may provide supports to youth "who aged out of care or will age out of care between April 2021 and the discontinuation of funding availability..." In addition, counties may also use funds for IL - eligible youth still in care so long as funds remain.

Are youth who are under age 18, were adopted or entered a guardianship after age 16, and continue to work with the county welfare agencies eligible for stimulus funds from the county?

These youth are not eligible for the one-time payment costs (county support specific to youth who age out of care) but are eligible for IL funds until they transition to a TRA for ongoing services. Though these youth are no longer in care, they are IL-eligible but not yet eligible for TRA services (effective at age 18). Because it is more difficult for TRAs to connect with youth who are eligible for their services via guardianship (since the youth do not have a formal transition process the same way youth “aging out” do), the county should actively work to connect the youth to the TRA in their area.

These youth are not traditionally eligible for room and board supports using regular IL funds and according to standard IL eligibility criteria. However, per federal guidance about stimulus funds, these youth qualify for room and board supports through September 30, 2021. Therefore, the county may expend stimulus dollars to support these youth’s housing needs prior to the youth turning 18 so long as that support does not supplant other funding. In rare occasions, the TRA may do so for youth prior to age 18. Given how limited and unique these occurrences may be, the county and TRA shall discuss the potential for one or both to provide room and board support for these particular youth prior to age 18 and consult with the DCF IL Coordinator for guidance before allocating any funds for that purpose.

Because these youth did not age out of care, they are not eligible for direct financial assistance via the TRAs. For that same reason, they are also not eligible for the short-term housing assistance via the counties after turning 18. They are, however, eligible for the suite of other IL supports the TRAs provide (which includes room and board through September 30, 2021).

Qualifying Supports

Is a list of IL - eligible expenses available?

No, there is no definitive list of eligible expenses. IL is intentionally broad given that you needs and goals related to self-sufficiency vary according to their circumstances. IL services and supports are intended to support youth transition from care and aid their development of independent living skills. While expenses are often related to one of the five key IL domains including housing, health and well-being, education, employment, and permanent connections, they may also be rooted in areas such as transportation, financial stability, etc. See the website and the child welfare worker portal for a description of some eligible cost categories.

One cost that counties may not support with IL funds is the youth’s purchase of a car, though funds may be used to support other driving and transportation related costs, as outlined in Info Memo 2021-12i. The memo also outlines other ineligible costs – see page 3 for more information.

Can the county backdate support for a young person for an IL-eligible cost?

No.

Can a county use stimulus funding to fund a youth's driver's education cost while they are in a foster care setting if the expectation is to use the exceptional rate to pay for such costs?

Driver's licensing costs are allowable for stimulus funding up to $4,000/youth (see page 3 of Info Memo 2021-24i). However, since driver's education may be included in the exceptional rate, our Bureau of Permanency and OHC recommends that the exceptional rate be the preferred funding source for DL costs (and other eligible exceptional rate expenses) for youth in OHC and stimulus funding be applied for other allowable costs that are not eligible for the exceptional rate. See this page for more info on the exceptional rate.

How does the counties' use of the exceptional rate relate to its use of these IL stimulus funds?

If a county can finance costs through the exceptional rate process, then it should, that process finances non-negotiable costs. Stimulus funding may be used to cover discretionary expenses related to a youth’s independent living and transition needs and goals. The stimulus funding shall not supplant anything that can be paid for via the exceptional rate.

If a county supports a youth's car insurance costs by paying for the youth's cost directly or by paying for the increased cost the foster parent assumes by having the youth on their insurance plan, would the county's support be included as part of the county's foster care rate? How does the use of stimulus funding apply?

If the youth is still in placement, has an established foster care rate, and that cost is covered in the exceptional rate then it should remain there to avoid supplanting funds.

If the youth is no longer in care and stimulus funding is used in the short-term, after they have left care, there are two options:

  1. If the insurance is on the foster family’s plan, the cost can be covered as part of the county’s one-time payment request.
  2. If the insurance needs to be paid separately, the county will reimburse/report via SPARC and follow agency procedures on how to secure that (PO/Invoice etc.).

In both cases, the county should refer to the cost reporting guide in Info Memo 2021-12i for detailed instructions on reporting expenses with stimulus funding.

Do payments for IL-related services for youth in placement need to be made to providers (auto insurance provider, cell phone provider, etc.) or can the payment be made to the youth directly?

The only direct payment to young people is the direct assistance that TRAs will provide. Other supports should be provided per normal county practice, which is to providers.

When the county provides funding for a youth to remain in their previous placement, is the county expected to continue to provide case management (teaming with the TRA)? 

Youth who qualify for county supports to keep them in their prior placement setting, even once off an order, are eligible for regional IL services via the TRAs because they aged out of care. As such, those youth should be transitioned to the TRA for case management and other IL supports more broadly as they normally would be. Counties should collaborate with the TRAs during that transition and how to best marry the supports from the county and the region.

If a youth was in a supervised independent living (SIL) placement with SIL payments can those payments continue? All (food, transportation, clothing, etc.) or only the rent portion of the monthly rate (not to exceed the previous rate)? 

Yes, you can incorporate basic need support. Info Memo 2021-12i states that this one-time stimulus money follows the same process as Info Memo 2020-19i (released when DCF provided COVID-19 emergency funding last year) and that memo states Payments to support other housing situations may cover rent, security deposits, utilities, and basic household supplies. Other expenses such as food, clothing, and transportation may also be covered if those needs cannot be met through other means.”

Can these funds be used to support a youth living in a transitional program, not part of adult care?

In general, the stimulus funding cannot supplant any other funding, including support from other agencies/programs. In the situation described, the county may use the funds to support this living arrangement in the short-term (up to three months), but the TRA is likely in the best position to provide longer-term, more comprehensive housing assistance. Thus, the county should collaborate with the TRA to make sure the youth is properly referred and successfully transitioned to their services (should the youth want to participate).

Can payments to maintain a previous placement be made for only “up to 3 months” or can the county make additional payments after the initial three months? For example, a youth that aged out in April with three months will get them to July.

IL-eligible youth who qualify for housing supports via the county because they aged out from April 2021 onward are categorically eligible for TRA services. Therefore, rather than having county support continue beyond 3 months post-aging out, the TRA would assume responsibility for serving that young person, which would include helping them with housing. That may mean the TRA continues to provide financial support that leverages the placement type the county had supported (e.g. informal support or prior placement setting) or that they work with the young person to identify and secure other options. Again, county/TRA collaboration is key.

Can youth who receive supports from the county after aging out (short-term supports to maintain stable housing) also receive supports via the TRA?

Yes, youth who qualify for housing supports via the county because they aged out from April 2021, onward are categorically eligible for TRA services, and counties must refer those young people to the TRAs. This includes the monthly direct financial assistance that TRAs provide to youth who qualify (aged out between January 27, 2020, and September 30, 2021). The youth may receive this direct financial assistance from the TRA prior to, simultaneous with, or absent other supports from the TRA. Youth receipt of direct financial assistance is not contingent on them receiving other IL services.

What is normalcy and how does it relate to Independent Living stimulus funding?

Normalcy is broadly defined as allowing children and youth in out-of-home care to experience childhood and adolescence in ways similar to their peers who are not in foster care. For teens in out-of-home care in particular, this must include developing increased autonomy, voice, and choice, as they witness their same-age peers gaining more independence and developing their identities. Choice and autonomy are often elusive for youth in out-of-home care; big decisions about who they live with and for how long are often not theirs to make. The additional Chafee funding currently available to counties to offer supports and services to IL-eligible youth in their care (see DSP Informational Memo Series 2021-24i) is a prime opportunity for county partners to ensure IL-eligible youth have a sense of normalcy, choice, and voice in decision-making, including in purchases made on their behalf.

This direction is required by federal law and supported by national best practices research. The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (P. L. 113‒183) includes the reasonable and prudent parent standard (RPPS). In the area of normalcy, the Act specifically requires states to ensure that children who are most likely to remain in foster care until age 18 years of age engage in age- or developmentally-appropriate activities. The RPPS states decisions should normalize a child or youth’s experiences as much as possible while maintaining their health, safety, and best interests. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation (2015), youth have defined “normalcy” as:

  • Being part of a caring and supportive family
  • Developing and cultivating friendships with peers and relationships with supportive adults
  • Engaging in extracurricular and everyday activities (e.g., participating in sports and clubs, getting a driver’s license, going on school trips, etc.)
  • Being a person, not a label (i.e., “foster child/youth”)
  • Having the authority to make their own decisions, try new things, and make mistakes

How can Independent Living stimulus funds be used to promote normalcy?

The Wisconsin Department of Children and Family (DCF) encourages and supports county partners’ use of Chafee funding made available via the Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act to promote normalcy for youth in out-of-home care. Funds can be used for a wide range of activities, including participation in extracurriculars, educational and employment readiness, developing community and cultural connections, and preparing to transition to independence. Supporting normalcy within any and all of these areas is an allowable Independent Living (IL) expense.

It is the responsibility of DCF to promote the “normalcy,” healthy development, and well-being for all youth – and to ensure that youth, especially those who age out of care, leave out-of-home care healthy and prepared for life. As direct care coordinators for youth in out-of-home care, county partners are in the best position to execute that goal by collaborating with the youth to identify and provide direct and personalized supports. The Chafee funding available to counties until September 30, 2022, is 100% percent reimbursable so long as it is expended in accordance with Info Memo 2021-24i and IL program rules. DCF encourages counties to think critically and creatively about how to maximize fund use to support its IL-eligible youth in and recently discharged from out-of-home care, including, but not limited to, prioritizing normalcy.

Expense Reporting

Are all requests for funding from the county done through eWiSACWIS as the one-time payment or is part of the funding separate and can be claimed on the SPARC number provided?

As per the memo: Counties must use the one-time payment mechanism in eWiSACWIS to provide payment when children are continuing to live in their previous placement home or with another individual supported by the county. Directions for entering COVID19 Youth Aging Out one-time payments can be found in the User Guide: Creating a COVID-Youth Aging Out One-Time Payment.

DCF will reimburse 100% of placement stability costs that are entered into eWiSACWIS as per the schedule provided in the memo. Reimbursement will be made via SPARC Contract Code 3620. Counties do not need to enter anything into the SPARC portal; expense entry will be done by DCF.

Counties should use SPARC Code 3621 to enter costs related to independent living-related services and supports (using funds for youth still in care). Counties are strongly encouraged to enter costs monthly, as reimbursements may not be made once funding is no longer available.

Do I create the one-time payment each month for the three months or will it generate automatically after I create once?

You need to create a separate one-time payment for each month, up to three months. The system does not generate them automatically. Also, as noted in the payment guide, you will need to email Shannon Braden (via Shannon.Braden@wi.gov – include case # and child ID#) when you enter the payment request so she can approve it as there is no tickler/assignment systems no longer available.

If a young person leaves care late in a given month, for example the 28th, should I issue the one-time payment right away or starting with the next full month?

One-time payment should be issued the next full month. For example, if the youth leaves care on May 28, 2021, then date the first payment June 1, 2021.

Should the county close the placement when using these funds for youth who qualify and are out of care?

Yes, placement should be closed as the youth is no longer in out-of-home care (e.g. they are off a court order). Directions for entering COVID19 Youth Aging Out one-time payments can be found in the User Guide: Creating a COVID-Youth Aging Out One-Time Payment.

What amounts should the county apply to use stimulus funds to support housing stability for newly aged-out youth?

Per the direction outlined in Info Memo 2021-12i, the cost of one-time payments to support maintaining youth in their previous placement home is described above. This follows the same process outlined in Info Memo 2020-19i.

  • DCF will reimburse payments for youth who aged out of care or will age out of care between April 2021, and the discontinuation of funding availability.
  • Payments made to support the youth remaining in the home of their most recent placement should be no more than the previous monthly foster care rate.
  • Payment may be made for up to three months.
  • Youth remaining in their previous placement home with this support after their out-of-home care placement order ends remain eligible for other TRA-provided services and supports, including direct payments for youth who qualify, and counties shall continue to facilitate transition of youth to TRA services.

What is the payment limit if a young person ages out of shelter care since a shelter care setting would not have a “previously monthly foster care rate?”

Since the youth would age out of shelter care to progress to a different type of living arrangement, the county should approach this situation by assessing what the payment amount should be to adequately meet the youth’s needs to be in that living arrangement, still providing financial assistance only up to three months. The TRA is in a better position to provide more sustainable housing assistance to the youth in the long-run, so the county should collaborate with the TRA to make sure the youth is properly referred and successfully transitioned to their services (should the youth want to participate).

Is there a capped amount for the IL supports a county may provide to a youth still in care?

The only cost category with a cap is driver's assistance which includes: driver's education, driver licensing, and insurance costs. That cap is $4,000 / youth.

Miscellaneous

Should the worker mention this additional funding and offer it to foster parents/care providers preemptively, or just mention it if the provider mentions that they would like to continue to support a young person but cannot do so without some financial compensation?

That is a judgment call for the worker/child welfare agency to make and should be determined on a case-by-case basis. The stimulus funding is not intended to be a long-term support, nor is it meant to cover anything already accounted for in the foster care rate.

How do these independent living supports (from county or TRA) impact youth eligibility for other benefits like SSI?

DCF cannot advise on this. The county and/or TRA supporting the young person should consult with the relevant benefits program to make that determination, particularly as it relates to the direct financial assistance. While we want as many qualifying youth to receive that support as possible, we do not want their receipt of IL supports to jeopardize their eligibility for other supports for which they qualify.

What funding did TRAs receive to support youth with expenses like housing supports?

TRAs received funding specifically for providing direct financial assistance to youth who qualify for that support and they also received general support stimulus funding (contract increase amount) that they can use to support youth’s housing costs, among other things. The Act that provides states with additional funding also temporarily removes the standard restriction on how much funding can be spent on housing, so TRAs are able to take advantage of that flexibility for as long as it’s in effect.