[Said in a Paul Revere Voice] The elections are coming, the elections are coming! [Said in a stern teacher voice] Have you registered?

The Deadline to Register for the
Primary Election: August 20, 2014

Primary Election: Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

 

In the Primary election, voters elect candidates from each party for the state’s General Election which will be held on November 4, 2014.  Voters who are registered Republican are given a Republican Ballot, with the Republican candidates for Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Treasurer, and State and Federal Legislators and other local offices. Likewise, voters who are registered Democrat will be given a ballot with the Democratic candidates.  Voters who are “un-enrolled” declare their party at the check in table at their polling location. They will be given the ballot of the recognized party (Republican, Democrat, Libertarian,*) they request and their voting status will go back to un-enrolled for future elections.

Click here for information on how to register, including a link to download a registration form.  There is a 6 month grace period in Massachusetts to change an address.  That means you can go back to your polling place of origin to vote as long as it has been 6 months or less since you moved.  To register to vote, you must be 18 years of age or older, a citizen of the United States, and a resident of Massachusetts.  Those are the only requirements and restrictions.

If you have moved since you registered and are unable to return to your polling place, you may also request an absentee ballot.  You can vote no matter where you are! Click here for more information and to request a ballot.

To find your election information- including candidates and polling place- click here 

We will post more information on the candidates in the upcoming days and as the election dates approach, but you cannot vote if you are not registered.  These elections are important- especially to those of us who care about family homelessness.  Shelter rules, eligibility, housing investments, and priorities across the State Budget are made by our state’s elected officials.  There are choices within each party. Your vote counts.

 If you are not registered, register now.

If you are registered, help a friend or neighbor register.

There are requirements to make sure voting is accessible.

For more information, check out MassVote

Please and thank you!

Vote

*Please note, there is also a movement to start a new party here in MA, the United Independent Party.  For information, click here.

A Guide to Entering the Massachusetts Family Shelter System

Mass. Law Reform Institute and Rosie’s Place have collaborated to create an EA Family Guide to help guide families in applying for EA family shelter. 

Click the following links to view the guide: in English and in Spanish.

 

Please distribute these guides widely to advocates and to families directly.

Thank you to Mass. Law Reform Institute and Rosie’s Place for this very necessary guide, and for the incredible work you do to keep families safe, supported and housed!   

 

 

FY2015 Conference Committee Awaits Governor’s Approval, and…

DHCD presses forward with RAFT and HomeBASE

Early this week, the FY2015 MA Legislative Budget Conference Committee’s budget was presented and approved in both the House and Senate. The budget now awaits Governor Patrick’s Approval. However, in the meantime, DHCD has announced that RAFT and HomeBASE administering agencies can move forward immediately with the issuance of funding for both programs.

Of note, the final budget proposal allows families to access HomeBASE Household Assistance of up to $6,000 (an increase of $2,000) over the FY2014 budget. Additionally, providers and families are reminded that for families exiting shelter, they can also access $2,000 from the Housing Preservation and Stabilization Trust Fund, maximizing the full benefit at $8,000.  The money in the trust fund is limited so access will be first come, first serve until the funding runs out. It is the hope that many more families will be able to take advantage of these combined resources to shorten lengths of stay in shelter.

Click here to view an analysis of the budget comparing last year’s spending and how the final committee budget appears (picture below).

Here are some highlights of note:

  • MRVP was funded at $65M ($7.5M over FY2014 funding), and allows for unspent funding in FY2014 to be carried over. We will be working with DHCD to learn exactly how many more vouchers this will account for and about their plans for distribution because the final budget did include a provision that disallows DHCD from directly targeting families in the EA system and mandates the use of waitlists.
  • EA and motels were funded at $140.3M. The motel line item was eliminated and funding for both shelters and motels is contained in the EA line item.
  • TAFDC was significantly decreased by more than $46M, as the Administration has projected a dramatic decrease in caseload. Already since last year, 6,000 fewer families have access to TAFDC benefits.

As the numbers of families experiencing homelessness continue to increase, we are happy to see a necessary funding increase in the programs that support them as well.

With any questions about RAFT, please click here.

 

The Long Road to Welfare Reform

Let them have shampoo!  Woah…wait! Huh?!

Let them have EBT photo cards!! Wait…why??

And the Senate votes tomorrow?

Some of you may recall our MRVP Cookie Day event in 2013 where I delayed my speech to the audience by applying lip gloss and lotion as I approached the podium. Many sat in bewilderment not realizing my intent was to create a distraction from the real purpose of the day in advocating for more MRVP resources, mimicking the distraction caused by a provision proposed to the previous year’s budget that would have banned TAFDC recipients from spending cash assistance on cosmetics, save a bar of soap.

While families continued to suffer from, as they do today, the hardships of poverty and homelessness, the advocates who work to ensure appropriate resources to move them out of these situations were busy defending a person’s right to purchase shampoo, deodorant, lotion, lip gloss, or as stated in the proposed legislation, any cosmetic product “poured, sprinkled, sprayed onto or inserted into the human body…” So, while we were trying to dedicate all of our resources to fighting for more housing resources for homeless families, this distraction forced us to spend time in defending a low-income parent’s right to purchase diaper cream for a suffering child.

This was not the beginning of welfare reform, but it was certainly a low point. Another low point came shortly after when both chambers of the Legislature thought it would be wise to require EBT photo cards for recipients of cash and/or SNAP benefits. It seems that in response to media stories highlighting the misuse of EBT benefits, the Massachusetts Legislature chose to be the only state in the country to adopt this practice.

Many would ask, what’s wrong with EBT photo cards? They cut down on fraud, waste and abuse. The simple answer is – no, they do not. And here are a few reasons why:

  • Retailers do not even look at the card – the federal government has made it clear that any retail establishment that checks the IDs of an EBT card holder must check the IDs of all those rendering electronic payment.
  • All family members have the right to access the household’s EBT benefits or designate a non household member to utilize the card on the family’s behalf.
  • Having a photo on an EBT card does not discourage a retailer who is engaging in criminal activity from being a criminal.
  • There is no evidence that suggests the benefits of implementing an EBT photo card program outweigh the costs associated with it.

Despite the list above, the MA Legislature voted overwhelmingly to implement a program that former Governor Mitt Romney eliminated due to its high costs and inability to assist in rooting out fraud. In fact, out of the 200 legislators who make up both the House of Representatives and the Senate, only 2 voted against bringing back this failed policy, Senators Sonia Chang-Diaz of Boston and Jamie Eldridge of Acton.

So, you might ask – why did they do it? And the answer is not an easy one, depending on who you ask. It seems that the Legislature had a knee jerk reaction to several media stories blasted on the airwaves after the release of two audit conducted on the Department of Transitional Assistance. Both the media and the reports suggested that fraud was rampant in the welfare system, when scrutiny of the reports and evidence suggests that the overwhelming majority of households receiving assistance are doing so legitimately.

No one has suggested that welfare fraud does not exist, or that we should not invest in ensuring that precious public resources for social programs are maximized by families who are eligible to receive them and utilize them for the purpose for which they were intended.

In fact, the Legislature has increased penalties for both recipients and retailers who engage in illegal activity with public assistance benefits, but that is not what is being addressed here. The recent actions of the Legislature beg the question: what are we solving for? What goal are we trying to achieve? And how does an attempt at banning hand lotion or bringing back photos on EBT cards help us arrive there? Simply, they don’t. And yet, the saga continues.

Earlier this week a legislative conference committee released their final version of An Act to Foster Economic Independence, more infamously known as ‘welfare reform.’ While the bill would include some positive changes, such as allowing for increased education and training and loosening some asset limitations, there are still significant concerns:

  • Gives current or future administration blank check to narrow the disability standard. 4,500 disabled parents and their children would lose all benefits after two years and sooner if they can’t meet work requirements
  • Imposes job search requirements on applicants before they can qualify for childcare or transportation assistance. There is a real risk that children will be left in unsafe arrangements while parents attempt to comply with the requirements of job search.
  • Requires applicants who previously received benefits to prove compliance with a plan developed while they received benefits, perhaps years earlier, regardless of whether the plan still makes sense or was reasonable and appropriate in the first place. A lifetime bar, with no way to cure past failures, is unconscionable and fails to provide an opportunity for success.
  • Imposes work requirements on pregnant women in their last trimester, unless they have medical proof they can’t work.  Pregnant women in the last trimester are not likely to get hired for jobs and not likely to be accepted into training programs.

Tomorrow, the Senate will likely vote on the recommendations of the conference committee, and all indications point to its passage. The welfare coalition continues to advocate for NO votes on the bill, and are continuing to educate Senators on the potential harm contained in the bill. At the very least we are hoping that Senators who are concerned about the well being of children in extremely low income households will seek increased legislative consultation oversight of the implementation of these policy changes at DTA.

“Unintended consequences” is a phrase that continues to arise in the conversations around welfare reform. If you recall, the DTA’s implementation of the EBT photo cards left many without access to their benefits last December, as their cards were deactivated before receiving a replacement card with their photo on it. Currently, families are reporting that their benefits are being erroneously terminated because of bad data matches that are occurring, indicating they received income that they never did.

So while our ideal outcome would be an anonymous NO vote on this bill in the Senate tomorrow, we realize that will not happen. Yet, it is imperative that the Legislature at least seek to ensure that DTA is able to implement these policy changes while minimizing the harmful impact on children. And ultimately, we have to ask ourselves: are these changes to policy really helping us to root out fraud, waste and abuse – or is it doing more harm to children in poor families whose parents are actually “playing by the rules” and working toward economic independence?

And finally, when does it end? Will we ever get to a point where there is absolutely no fraud in the welfare system? No, as with any other system. Should we be creating opportunities to enhance program integrity and ensure that access to these programs is limited to those who are actually in need and are eligible? Absolutely! How can we move policy makers to address root causes and true solutions? And, in the meantime, how many more children living in poverty will suffer as a result of unintended consequences of policy designed around false public perception of rampant fraud and abuse?

-Diane Sullivan, Policy Director

Visioning Day: What does it mean to you? #OurVoice

Today, Team HFF gathered in our executive director’s office and asked ourselves a very, very important question:

What is the goal of Visioning Day?

We sat and thought for a milli-second, allowing our minds to reflect on one of our favorite days of the year, and thought about what it means to us individually.

Collectively, we came up with a list on what Visioning Day means to us:

To HFF, Visioning Day:

  • Brings people together
  • Adds transparency to our advocacy
  • Is a time to share a wide range of ideas
  • Guides our programmatic and policy agenda
  • Brings the power and decision making to the people
  • Convenes all stakeholders and share information all at once
  • Is a chance for us to understand the issues faced by the community
  • Provides inspiration and reinforces the need for involvement in advocacy
  • Allows us to demonstrate to our community where our stances come from
  • Allows us to give feedback to the state and informs policies as a community
  • Where we balancing giving important information with receiving important input
  • Is an opportunity to discuss hot topics and important issues to create big impact
  • A way we gather information on how we should move forward from the community
  • Establishes and reaffirms families and the non-profit community as voters and stakeholders
  • Brings us one step closer in our mission to end family homelessness throughout Massachusetts

 

But in true HFF form, it wouldn’t be a complete brainstorm or outcome without the input of the HFF community…so we are bringing it to YOU!

What does Visioning Day mean to you?

Please share your thoughts, ideas and comments with us on Facebook, Twitter, or this very blog post throughout the week as we plan Visioning Day 2014 so we can add to this list.  After all, each Visioning Day (and the advocacy efforts that come from it) get bigger and better every year…let’s make this list do the same!

Oh…and in case you were wondering:

SavetheDateFINAL

A Blog Post Relative to An Act Relative to Local Housing Authority Reform

This week, bill sponsors and chairs of the Joint Committee on Housing, Senator Jamie Eldridge and Representative Kevin Honan released their highly anticipated bill, An Act Relative to Local Housing Authority (LHA) Reform. The bill seeks to increase accountability and transparency by mandating certain requirements addressing areas such as performance benchmarks, annual planning and audits, board member conduct, regional approaches and the creation of a centralized waitlist.

Under this bill, all LHAs would be required to develop benchmarks addressing such things as staff and board training, plans for maintenance and repair of units, budget management and capital planning and resident services. Additionally, DHCD would develop criteria to designate a LHA to qualify as chronically poor performing and would have authority to appoint financial and administrative officers for up to 3 years as well as up to 2 board members.

Each LHA would be required to develop an annual plan with its stakeholders and make that plan available to the public and would be required to share their audits with DHCD and post them online.  The bill would require DHCD to develop and provide mandatory board member training and requires LHAs to provide technical assistance to tenant board members.

The bill would require LHAs with 500 state-funded units or less to use 1 of 3 regional Capital Assistance Teams (CATs) that would each serve approximately 70 LHAs.  These CATs would provide assistance in developing and managing capital programs while conducting surveys of all surplus land owned by LHAs and work toward additional housing development on these sites.

The bill would provide financial incentive to LHAs to work together to create 3 regional housing authorities that would merge LHAs of no less than 7 local communities and a collective portfolio of 750 state-funded units. Finally, the bill would require DHCD to develop a statewide application and waitlist that would allow LHAs to maintain local preference.

For an article about the bill, click here

For more information about the Public Housing Reform, click here

For more on the the affordable housing stock in MA, click here

For a link to information on applications and documentation, click here

For the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials, click here

DS/LH

Call to Action: Last Chance to Weigh in on the FY15 Budget

We have one more opportunity to weigh in with the MA Legislature regarding their development of the state’s FY2015 budget. As you may know, both the House and the Senate have passed their respective versions of the budget. Currently, a conference committee of six legislators is working to compromise on the variations between the two and to develop a finalized budget that will soon be presented to the governor for approval.

Please click here to view the letter HFF sent to the conferees with specific requests regarding the budget outcome. Click here to view a chart with specific information on the line items that we advocate for.

We are asking our supporters to make just two quick phone calls – one to your state representative and one to your state senator – asking them to follow the recommendations made by HFF on behalf of our membership and the families we serve and partner with.

Sample script:

Hi. My name is _________________, and I live/work in/at ____________________ . I am calling to request that my representative/senator contact the FY2015 budget conference committee members to ask that they:

1. Fund MRVP at the Senate recommended amount of $70.5 million while giving DHCD time to develop and implement a new waitlist for the program and the flexibility to address the immediate needs of homeless families.

2. Fund EA and motels at the levels recommended by the House, totalling $140 million.

3. Fund HomeBASE at the House recommended amount of $26 million.

If you are uncertain of how to contact your elected officials, please click here.

Thank you again for your ongoing advocacy, Massachusetts is stronger because of it!