TLPs Dangle for Dollars

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Talk about holiday headaches: Some programs that help homeless teens might be forced to put youth out of the homes that are meant to ease their paths to adulthood.

Twenty-three programs funded through the federal Transitional Living Program (TLP) for Older Homeless Youth wait in limbo as Congress and President Bush tussle over a spending bill for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). While some programs can stay intact by juggling resources for a few months, others might have to cut staff or even shut down.

TLP grantees receive up to $200,000 from the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB), a division of the Administration for Children and Families at HHS. Funding for TLP programs, including Maternity Group Homes, has stood at $39.5 million for the past two fiscal years, down from $39.9 million in 2005.

The program, conceived in 1988, is part of FYSB’s Runaway and Homeless Youth Program, which in 2006 received its first “effective” rating under the Performance Evaluation Rating Tool.

A study of 10 TLPs by CSR Inc. in 1997 found that compared with similarly at-risk youth, those completing the programs were more likely, six months after entry, to be either employed or attending school, and to have savings accounts. A larger evaluation is in the design stage, according to Stan Chappell, director of FYSB’s Research and Evaluation Division.

The TLP money was to begin flowing at the start of fiscal 2008, which was Oct. 1. But with the federal budget not yet approved, that can’t happen.

“We can’t make any decisions until we have a budget,” says Curtis Porter, who joined FYSB 13 years ago and is now acting associate commissioner. “We can’t approve one application yet.”

Porter has done his part to alleviate the problems. Whenever a new grantee is funded, Porter says, he usually convinces the agency to start the project in March, so that the grant renewal probably won’t coincide with budget negotiations on Capitol Hill.

Nevertheless, plenty of veteran TLP grantees have grant periods that begin early in the fiscal year, leaving them threatened by the ongoing budget deadlock in Washington. Agencies whose grants have ended and which have applied for new grants are essentially put on hold.

Since Sept. 30, grants have expired for 23 programs, and all but two have applied for new five-year grants, FYSB says. Until the 2008 appropriation for HHS is approved, none of the programs will find out whether they will still be doing business with FYSB in 2008.

“It’s the same issue over and over,” says former FYSB Director Harry Wilson, noting that this year’s delay affects more programs than usual. “Curtis has done some amazing things” to help alleviate problems related to the early fiscal year start dates, Wilson says. But “he is really over the barrel this time.”

HHS has a list of programs it intends to fund with the money it expects to get, but will not disclose it until Bush signs a spending bill. “We have a decision memo ready to go,” Porter says. “I would love to be able to call [applicants] and say ‘you’re in funding range right now.’ ”

But funding can be cut back at any time during appropriations squabbles. “If we don’t get what we expect, then the complaint letters come in saying, ‘Curtis Porter told me I was getting funded,’ ” Porter says. “We’re not putting ourselves in that kind of position.”

At Youth in Need, which operates a TLP in St. Charles, Mo., CEO Jim Braun says his nonprofit will continue the program, despite “risking losing some funds that could damage the agency.”

“We’re not going to throw homeless kids out on the street,” Braun says.

Porter says he appreciates agencies’ efforts to continue operating until their new grants are approved, but cautions that renewal is far from certain. “TLP is the most competitive process that we run,” Porter says. “Groups that just ended grants with us perhaps will not be successful this time.”

For the most part, Wilson adds, the federal contribution to TLP programs is intended to augment the resources of organizations that are able to bring in revenue. “It takes millions to run TLP programs,” he says. “FYSB gives maybe 10 percent of what it takes to run one. There are very few ‘mom and pops’ living just off that $200,000.”