Runaway and Homeless Youth Act Reauthorization

Issue Status

The final version of S. 2982 was passed by the U.S. on September 25, 2008. The House passed the Senate version of the bill on September 26th under unanimous consent. The President signed the legislation and it became Public Law on October 8, 2008.

The original version of the House bill, H.R. 5524,the Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act of 2008, was introduced on March 4, 2008, by Representative John Yarmuth (D-KY) joined by Representative Judy Biggert (R-IL) and 26 other co-sponsors. On May 6, 2008, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) introduced S. 2982, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Protection Act of 2008, which was later changed to the title in the original House bill.

Summary of Legislation


  • Reauthorizes and increases authorization levels for Runaway and Homeless Youth Act programs. The runaway and homeless youth consolidated account would be increased from the current $105 million to $140 million in FY 2009 and “such sums as may be necessary” in each of FY 2010 through FY 2013. The runaway prevention account would be authorized at the $25 million level in FY 2009 through FY 2013.
  • Increases the RHYA Basic Center Program allotments for small states and for territories. The minimum BCP allotment for states with small youth populations would be increased from the current $100,000 to $200,000. The maximum BCP allotment for U.S. territories would be increased from the current $45,000 to $70,000.
  • Permits HHS to redistribute unexpended funds to other BCP applicants for a one-year grant period, after which time the amount should be returned to the BCP general pool for re-allocation.

RHYA Project Admission and Length of Stay Criteria

  • Limits basic centers to providing shelter services to individuals who are less than 18 years of age.
  • Allows extensions in length of stay in basic centers from 15 days to up to 21 days and in transitional living projects from 18 months to 21 months, due to exceptional circumstances.

RHYA Applicant Eligibility, Use of Funds, and Funding Conditions

  • Adds public entities as eligible applicants for Street Outreach Program funds.
  • Clarifies that RHYA funds are to be distributed to organizations and not directly to program participants.
  • Requires basic centers and transitional living projects to have in place written emergency management and crisis response plans as a condition for receiving federal RHYA awards.
  • Allows Transitional Living Programs to serve youth up until their 22nd birthday.

Federal Program Management

  • Requires HHS to develop performance standards for RHYA direct service grantees. The Secretary shall provide an opportunity for public comment on the performance standards.
  • Requires the GAO to assess the effectiveness of the grant-making process for runaway and homeless youth programs within 1 year of enactment of the law. The assessment will focus on content and structure of grant announcements, the grant review process, the selection of grant reviewers, the oversight of the grant review process, the timeframe and process for communicating to applicants about funding, and plans for the implementation of the technical assistance and training programs and how this effects the grant application process.
  • Adds a finding on the applicability of positive youth development to the organization and delivery of services to unaccompanied youth.
  • Adds a statutory definition of “runaway youth” identical to the definition of such term in the Code of Federal Regulations.
  • Includes educational and workforce development programs that reconnect youth to school, college, and labor under grants for research evaluation, demonstration and service projects.
  • Includes innovative programs that assist youth in obtaining and maintaining safe and stable housing under grants for research evaluation, demonstration and service projects.

National Activities

  • Requires HHS to develop every fifth year, directly or via contract, a national estimate of the prevalence of unaccompanied situations among youth and young adults.
  • Requires HHS to establish research, evaluation, and demonstration priorities every two years and to provide an opportunity for public comment on such priorities.

Why this Matters

RHYA is the Sole Federal Law Targeted to Unaccompanied Youth. Congress first enacted the RHYA in 1974 and has regularly reauthorized it to ensure a basic level of support for unaccompanied youth regardless of their state of origin or residence. Few states have established funding streams targeted to unaccompanied youth.

RHYA Projects are Facing Overwhelming Unmet Need. The basic living needs of too many of our nation’s unaccompanied youth are not being met. In 2007, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act programs served over 740,000 homeless youth, yet only seven percent of those unaccompanied homeless youth were provided shelter or transitional housing through Basic Center and Transitional Living Programs.

RHYA Projects are Cost Effective Alternatives to Custodial Care and Arrest. The average federal cost of serving a youth in a basic center of $1,282 and in a transitional living project of $14,726 are far below the minimum cost of serving youth through the child welfare or juvenile justice systems, with annual costs ranging from $25,000 – $55,000 per youth. Law enforcement officials are the referral source for 20 percent of youth entering basic centers.

RHYA Projects Use Federal Funds to Leverage Community Resources.RHYA projects succeed due to partnerships created among families, schools, community-based organizations, faith communities, law enforcement agencies, businesses, and volunteers.

RHYA Projects Raise the Achievement Level of Unaccompanied Youth. The last federally-funded evaluations of the Basic Center Program and the Transitional Living Program found that they produced positive outcomes for participating youth in the following areas:

Family Strengthening

  • Basic center youth reported lessened rates of family conflict and parental physical abuse.
  • Transitional living youth reported that the program helped them better manage communication and maintain positive relationships with their families.


  • School participation among basic center youth doubled after basic center services commenced, compared to the participation rate 30 days prior to accessing a basic center.
  • The proportion of youth in transitional living projects attending college was three times that of homeless youth who were not in a TLP.


  • Employment rates of youth in basic centers increased by 24 percent.
  • 60 percent of transitional living youth were employed part-time or full-time, compared to 41 percent of homeless youth not participating in a TLP.


Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) programs have the purposes of preventing victimization and ensuring basic safety of unaccompanied children and youth and ensuring youths’ access to family reunification, housing, education, employment training, health care, and other social services.

The RHYA Basic Center Program provides grants to community-based, faith-based, and public organizations to support family strengthening efforts, including counseling, home-based services for families with children at risk of separation from the family, and emergency and respite shelter (no greater than 21 days) for youth under the age of 18. The average age of children entering a basic center is 15 years. In FY 2006 328 BCP grantees supported 37,648 children and youth at an average cost of $1,282 in federal funds per young person.

The RHYA Transitional Living Program provides grants to community-based, faith-based, and public organizations to support longer-term residential services (up to 21 months) and life skill supports to youth ages 16 through 21 who are unable to return home safely. TLPs assist youth in successfully transitioning into responsible adulthood and self-sufficiency and connecting them to education, workforce, and other supports. The average age of youth entering a transitional living project is 18 years, eight months. In FY 2006 207 TLP grantees supported 2,683 youth at an average cost of $14,726 in federal funds per youth. This program includes maternity group homes, which are residential arrangements for pregnant and parenting youth who are fleeing from abusive homes. Maternity group homes assist these youth in accessing housing, prenatal care, parenting classes, child care, and educational services.

The RHYA Street Outreach Program provides grants to community-based and faith-based organizations to support street-based outreach and education to homeless children and youth who have been sexually abused or who are at risk of commercial sexual exploitation. In FY 2006 140 SOP grantees reached 402,207 youth at an average cost of $37 in federal funds per contact.

The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act also authorizes funds for the National Runaway Switchboard, a national communications system for runaway youth and their families; training and technical assistance for grantees; an information clearinghouse; a management information system; research and evaluation; and peer monitoring of grantees.

Congress first enacted the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act in 1974 as Title III of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.

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Darla Bardine


September 28, 2008

1351 words5.1 min read