By Graham Bowman, Youth Health Attorney
A new policy enacted by the state of Illinois clarifies that homeless and unaccompanied minors can apply for their own public benefits without parental permission.
Youth Futures attorneys at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless advocated for this policy, in collaboration with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
When a young person loses housing, s/he risks losing many benefits of the social safety net as well. Rules for programs such as SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid, and TANF (cash assistance) allow unaccompanied minors and older youth to obtain these basic benefits. Yet homeless youth are routinely turned away by caseworkers when they attempt to apply at public benefits offices. These benefits are critical to the well-being of youth who are often disconnected from other systems of support.
Caseworkers at public benefits offices are often unaware of the rules that apply to homeless minors. In some cases, the state is still issuing benefits for the youth through a parent with whom s/he no longer lives. In many cases, caseworkers demand that the parent come to the office to give permission before they approve the youth’s benefits, which is not required.
Getting permission is nearly impossible for a youth who has little or no relationship with parents who abandoned or rejected them. This can be more difficult when removing a youth from the parent’s case means the parent’s benefits will be reduced.
Youth Futures attorneys advocate for youth clients who need health care, food stamps and/or cash assistance. Through this advocacy, the CCH Law Project has identified the lack of a clear policy as a systemic barrier to youth accessing the benefits for which they are eligible.
As adopted by the Illinois departments of Human Services and Health and Family Services on November 24, the policy makes clear that minors and young people may apply for their own benefits when they live away from home for more than 90 days. It also clarifies that parental permission is never required for a youth to receive benefits in his/her own name. The policy also states that public benefits offices must rely on statements given by social service agencies that work with homeless youth when determining whether a youth is living on his/her own.