April 30, 2015 - Issue: Vol. 161, No. 64 — Daily Edition114th Congress (2015 - 2016) - 1st Session
THE RUNAWAY AND HOMELESS YOUTH AND TRAFFICKING PREVENTION ACT; Congressional Record Vol. 161, No. 64
(Senate - April 30, 2015)
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[Page S2560] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] THE RUNAWAY AND HOMELESS YOUTH AND TRAFFICKING PREVENTION ACT Mr. LEAHY. Last week, the Senate considered a very important amendment to S. 178, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. Senator Collins and I offered amendment No. 290, the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act, which was cosponsored by Senators Ayotte, Murkowski, Baldwin, Heitkamp, Shaheen, Bennet, Murphy, Merkley, Schatz, Klobuchar, and Booker. As we crafted this legislation, Senator Collins and I listened to the stories of survivors of human trafficking and the service providers who help them rebuild their lives. So many of these stories began with a homeless or runaway teen, scared and alone, and in need of a safe place to sleep. These young people were completely vulnerable, and traffickers preyed upon their desperation. Survivors and service providers underscored the importance of preventing human trafficking from happening in the first place by reauthorizing the critical programs funded by the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act. With their feedback in mind, we crafted S. 262, the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act. We made important updates to ensure that homeless youth service providers are specifically trained to recognize victims of trafficking, address their unique traumas, and refer them to appropriate and caring services. Our bill will improve services for these vulnerable children in several ways. We lengthen the time that youth can stay in shelters from 21 days to 30 days, so they are better able to find stable housing. Kids who are forced out of shelters and back onto the streets before they are ready are more likely to become victims of exploitation. Our bill prioritizes suicide prevention services and family reunification efforts and expands aftercare services. Providers know that such measures save children's lives and help them build a more stable future with families and trusted adults. Under our bill, service providers will collect data on the demographics of youth who are served by their shelters to help understand their needs and refine their services. It encourages grantees to examine the connection between youth who are victims of trafficking and any previous involvement in the foster care system or juvenile justice system in order to address the causes of youth homelessness. It further requires staff training on how to help youth apply for Federal student loans to help make college possible for youth so they can build a more stable future. The Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act also includes a crucial nondiscrimination provision that would prevent discrimination against youth based on their race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability. We offered this important legislation as amendment No. 290 to the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. We were very disappointed that it received only 56 votes and failed to garner the 60 votes necessary for passage, but we are encouraged that it received a strong bipartisan vote from a majority of the Senate. I want to thank the 54 other Senators who voted for this legislation: Senators Ayotte, Baldwin, Bennet, Blumenthal, Booker, Boxer, Brown, Cantwell, Capito, Cardin, Carper, Casey, Coons, Donnelly, Durbin, Feinstein, Franken, Gillibrand, Heinrich, Heitkamp, Heller, Hirono, Kaine, King, Kirk, Klobuchar, Manchin, Markey, McCaskill, Menendez, Merkley, Mikulski, Murkowski, Murphy, Murray, Nelson, Paul, Peters, Portman, Reed, Reid, Sanders, Schatz, Schumer, Shaheen, Stabenow, Sullivan, Tester, Toomey, Udall, Warner, Warren, Whitehouse, and Wyden. We appreciate their support and their dedication to working to prevent vulnerable youth from becoming victims of human trafficking. I especially applaud Senators Collins, Heitkamp, Ayotte, and Murkowski for their help fighting to get a vote on this amendment. Their leadership on this issue is exceptional, and the Senate is better for having them as Members. I also want to thank the tireless advocates who have worked so hard to help us improve the bill and urge support for the effort: Darla Bardine, with National Network for Youth; Jennifer Pike and David Stacy, with Human Rights Campaign; Cyndi Lauper and Gregory Lewis, with the True Colors Fund; Bridget Petruczok and Laura Durso, with the Center for American Progress; Melysa Sperber, with the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking; Holly Austin Smith, Jayne Bigelsen, and Kevin Ryan, with Covenant House; Calvin Smith and Kreig Pinkham, with the Vermont Coalition of Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs; Erin Albright, with Give Way to Freedom; Griselda Vega, with Safe Horizon; Susan Burton, with the United Methodist Church; and the many others who provided us with their feedback as we drafted this important legislation. They are the true experts in this field and their insights and contributions were invaluable. This is not the end for the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act. As I have said time and again, we must protect the most vulnerable among us, and we must do everything we can to prevent the heinous crime of human trafficking from occurring. It is vital that we update and reauthorize the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act. We will continue to fight to see the passage of the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act. ____________________