The past 18 months have fundamentally changed the lives and viewpoints of everyone in our country. No one has been untouched by economic uncertainty, employment concerns, healthcare issues, housing instability, or a significantly altered social network. For older foster youth and young adults who have recently transitioned out of the child welfare system, it has been all of that and so much more.

We are former foster youth who know first-hand how difficult it can be to age out of care and begin adult life with no guidance, financial or moral support from family. We have experienced homelessness or housing uncertainty. We have had to take winding, non-traditional pathways to attain the educational goals most people achieve in four years. Our experiences are very typical for transition age youth (TAY). What’s not typical is how the pandemic has made things that were once very difficult for us seem nearly impossible.

Early in the pandemic, current and former foster youth activists raised the alarm about the impact it would have on our population. When colleges closed, for example, many families scrambled to clear dorm rooms and book flights home for college students. But young people without families moved into their cars, homeless shelters, or onto friends’ couches. Without access to dining halls and meal plans, we struggled with food insecurity. And we spent hours at libraries trying to continue our online classes until those shut down too.

Michael ended up on his estranged brother’s living room floor, where he snatched a few hours of sleep between online classes, shifts delivering packages for FedEx, and responding to emergency calls as a paramedic. As both an essential worker and frontline health worker throughout much of the pandemic, Michael should be lauded for doing his part for his Detroit-area community. Instead, he is haunted by visions of COVID-19’s victims and the disappointment of being unable to keep up with school.

Miles was supposed to age out of foster care during the pandemic. When a foster youth ages out of the system, they stop receiving services, help from case workers, and financial assistance. Because of the pandemic, Miles was able to extend their time in care and government-funded housing. But Miles was placed in Los Angeles County in an apartment far from public transportation and friends. And because no one ever taught Miles how to drive, they cannot obtain a driver’s license. While a panicked community loaded up their cars with paper goods and food early in the pandemic, Miles struggled with whether or not it was safe to head for the nearest bus stop, a half mile away.

As former foster youth, we are statistically more likely to have poor healthcare and suffer from mental illness, often the result of neglect and trauma. The numbers also say we’re more likely to experience homelessness and less likely to get a college degree than our peers. And these are the facts that existed before a global health and economic crisis. Each day, transition age youth fight these daunting statistics. COVID has made our fight exponentially harder and it can only be won with strategic investments in our success.

Late last year, a bipartisan group of Congressmembers worked swiftly and collaboratively to provide emergency assistance for former foster youth who have been impacted by the pandemic. Four hundred million dollars was earmarked for states to use however they saw fit: stimulus money, rent assistance, help with transportation, money for college — anything state officials thought would help these 18-to-26-year-olds weather the impact of the pandemic. The caveat: the money had to be distributed by the end of September. That deadline is today, but many states have yet to use the money or get the word out about its existence. That’s why Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) introduced legislation to extend the funding. But if Congress doesn’t act again to pass it, 20,000 young adults with no support system will face uncertain futures.

The announcement of the $400 million in emergency funding brought us so much hope, but we are on the verge of disappointment — an emotional pendulum that feels far too familiar to us. We need Congress and their constituents to demand that this money go where it’s intended, which means extending the deadline for funding. And we need states to move quickly to raise awareness and distribute the money in a way that provides a critical safety net to former foster youth. Transition age youth want so badly to prove the statistics wrong — to be productive, independent adults living out our hopes and dreams. But we cannot do it on our own.

Michael Davis-Thomas(he/him) is a student in Bay City, MI. Miles Ray-Burkes(they/them) is a student in Los Angeles, CA. They are both former foster youth and members of the National Foster Youth Institute. Rebecca Louve Yao (she/her) is a former foster youth and the Executive Director of the National Foster Youth Institute.