Families must earn less than 115% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) to be considered eligible for the state’s emergency assistance shelter program, click here to see the maximum monthly income by household size. Then once in shelter, there is a “6 month clock” for families who exceed the income limit. This rule is written into the family shelter line item in the State Budget:
provided further, that any family whose income exceeds 115 per cent of the federal poverty level while the family is receiving assistance funded by this item shall not become ineligible for assistance due to exceeding the income limit for a period of 6 months from the date that the income level was exceeded
Some things to consider in thinking about this policy:
The Wage Market: In Jan 2016, the Commonwealth increased the minimum wage to $10/hr. Increasing wages is a good thing, right? We all want to Raise Up Massachusetts? But at $10/hr, households of 2 people are no longer eligible for shelter while working a full time minimum wage job. As the minimum wage increases, so will the number of families that will face the shelter eligibility cliff, while still unable to afford market rent.
We have been discussing and wondering, the impact that the 6 month clock has on families in shelter. We posed the question to our member agencies, and have heard some varied responses:
Questions about the impact of this policy on HomeBASE eligibility
Questions about families’ awareness of the policy and consistency of enforcement
Direct examples of short term work triggering the 6 month clock, but then having no options or income at the end of the time period
Concerns that families report feeling trapped and that they want to work and earn as much money as they can, but that rent will still be unaffordable
Programs working directly on individual situations and trying to make HomeBASE or other alternatives work
In the early 1990’s funding for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program was $120 million. Funding for the program was slashed in the 1990’s down to $24 million, and the homelessness crisis was exacerbated. Homes for Families, together with the Housing Solutions Campaign, has been advocating to restore the funding to this crucial program. In a ten year span, from FY2006 to FY2016, funding was increased from $26M to $91M (an increase of 345%!), and $29M short of full restoration.
In FY16, MRVP vouchers played a critical role in the reduction of the number of families in motels across the Commonwealth, in housing homeless veterans, and in increasing the stock of project based supportive housing.
Advocacy began for full restoration to $120M in the FY17 Budget. The House and Senate each proposed about $100M, a solid allocation that would allow some program fixes and new vouchers. Currently, the line amount listed for MRVP is $82,391,587.
The complicated answer is: the FY17 allocation depended on about $14M in surplus – or unspent – MRVP funding from FY16; and all line item surpluses were recouped to cover FY16 expenses
The analogy is: It is kind of like planning to use your tax return to buy X, pay Y, or save for Z, and then your car breaks down or you have to move, and now there is no money left for X, Y, or Z.
The long answer is:
In FY16 MRVP received an increase of $26M. While this is a substantial increase, much of the funding was needed to maintain vouchers and project based units brought on in the prior year(s) and make program fixes, such as increasing the Fair Market Rent cap. However, there was enough funding for new vouchers. Distribution of the new vouchers did not begin until late fall, meaning that may vouchers were not leased up until the second half of the fiscal year, leaving surplus funding.
When the Governor released his budget proposal in February, he proposed $82.9M, but also included language in his mid year FY16 Supplemental Budget proposal to carry over surplus FY16 MRVP funds to FY17. This language was not included in the Supp Budget passed by the legislature, but the message was received.
The House proposed an even $100M with the following stipulation, “that the total amount appropriated and re-appropriated under this item shall include unexpended funds up to $14,652,294 appropriated for this item in fiscal year 2016 which shall not revert, but shall be made available for purposes of this item for fiscal year 2017”
The Senate proposed $100,083,891 and also included the same stipulation, which is often referred to as PAC language, or Prior Appropriation Continued. The Senate also included language to require DHCD to being distributing vouchers immediately, as one step for more fiscal efficiency
In June, the Conference Committee was working out their compromises – on MRVP, there was only a slight difference in funding and the distribution requirement to resolve. BUT, then those tax receipts came back low and the Governor had a problem; the budget needed to be balanced, so all surpluses – including the unspent MRVP funds slated to be used in FY17 – were reverted to balance the books.
The PAC language was no longer relevant, because there were no funds to revert, leaving the line item with $85,083,891.
Then the bad revenue news continued and the Governor proposed more vetoes, cutting MRVP down to $82,3M, essentially a $7.8M cut to the program.
“I am contacting your office to urge that the legislature override the veto of $2M to the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program, 7004-9024”
We will be meeting with DHCD and Housing Solution Campaign members to determine the impact of this cut and what may be possible to restore funding.
Then, we will urge the Legislature to consider restoring the program to FY16 level funding of $90M through the Supplemental Budget process. We are figuring out what is ‘sup with that now and will let the cyber-world know if there are advocacy opportunities.
PS: Since I used the word “slash” in the introductory paragraph and Guns N’ Roses is in town, I will leave you with this – the lyrics that are almost relevant.
We found about 50 that directly or indirectly relate to family homelessness; including earmarks or money for particular programs or initiatives (including one for HFF), others that could negatively impact families or the system, and others that could make a positive impact. To review this full list, click here.
Resilience is most often defined as the ability to achieve a good outcome in the face of adversity. Resilience can—and must—be built on a community-by-community and statewide basis, but there is no more important place to plant the seed of resilience than within our children. Strong, resilient children will grow up to be active contributors to a productive and thriving Commonwealth.
The Executive Summary gives an overview of the allocations by category with some of the reasoning of the committee:
Stable, safe housing is critical for family wellbeing and the physical, emotional and educational success of children. In line with the mission of the Special Senate Committee on Housing, this budget invests $441M in low income and homelessness programs to help connect individuals, families and vulnerable populations with housing and supportive services, key foundations for resilience at all ages.
And notes regarding specific investments or initiatives:
As recommended by the Special Senate Committee on Housing, this budget requires the Executive Offices of Housing and Economic Development, Health and Human Services, Labor and Workforce Development and Education to enter into a memorandum of understanding to identify cross-agency solutions to the challenges faced by low income Massachusetts residents at risk of homelessness.
Program funding is listed, by line item, in the allocation section. Below are the key programs impacting families experiencing homelessness, listed with the proposed funding level, language, and key amendments. We will compile a full list of relative amendments when they are filed.
Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (7004-9024)
SWM Proposed Funding Amount: $100,083,891
SWM Proposed Language: Adds reporting language and elimination of some technical changes related to program administration
Amendment: Housing Chair Linda Dorcena Forry’s amendment #779 proposed to increase funding to $120 million and make important adjustments to the program, including: establishing the Fair Market Rent (FMR) Cap at the current FMR; establishing a data management system; and mandating rapid voucher distribution. Click here for our MRVP Action Alert. Let your Senator know it is #779!
Emergency Assistance (7004-0101)
SWM Proposed Funding: $155,058,948
SWM Proposed Language: Includes language that families at imminent risk of homelessness would be eligible for shelter; increases advance notice language from 60 to 90 days; reduces reporting requirements
Amendment: Senator Jason Lewis’s Amendment #669 will increase reporting requirements to include the reasons why families are determined not eligible for EA and basic demographic information
SWM Proposed Funding: $31,943,664
SWM Proposed Language: Includes increased access to families in domestic violence and substance abuse family sober living programs
Amendment: Senator Sonia Chang Diaz’s amendment #426 will increase funding to $39,200,000; remove the funding cap for the expansion to domestic violence and substance abuse program residents and clarify eligibility for participants in those programs; and add language for voucher renewal
Other Useful Information
For more information about the Senate Ways and Means Budget Relative to Housing, please click the links for CHAPA’s full analysis and amendment list.
For more information on selected programs related to benefits, child welfare, housing and homelessness from Mass Law Reform Institute, click here
For a full analysis from Mass Budget and Policy Center, click here
Thank you to our partners in the advocacy community for this great work!
The Massachusetts House of Representatives have finalized their budget proposal, and now it is the Senate’s turn. The Senate Committee on Ways and Means, lead by Chairwoman Karen Spilka, will be releasing their proposal on Tuesday, May 17th. Amendments will be due on Thursday May, 19th. Debates will begin on Tuesday, May 24th.
We are not certain about what will be in the budget; and therefor what amendments may or may not be needed, but we do know that Senate President Stan Rosenberg is focused on “Kids First”. And we also know that Chairwoman Spilka has been a strong advocate on issues of housing, prevention and access to shelter, as evident in this video.
The Senate also established a Special Senate Committee on Housing which started meeting in April of 2015 and issued a report in March of 2016. The report may offer some insight as to what will be in the Senate Budget proposal:
And we also know that revenues have been low, and that there are multiple priorities for the elected officials and people of the Commonwealth. Your voice will be important as Senators work through the budget process. If you want to look up your State Senator and their contact information, click here, and get ready to advocate! Let #OurVoice be heard!
We thank all of the amendment sponsors and co-sponsors and the Committee on Ways and Means for their thoughtfulness in drafting the budget proposal. We hope that these amendments will be considered as part of our collective effort to reduce homelessness and promote housing stability and economic mobility in the Commonwealth.
As I type this, the final wave of amendments uploading onto the House Ways and Means Website. A lot of amendments are anticipated to this fiscally conservative budget proposal. Just as ship captains used to navigate with paper charts and now use fancy radars; lawmakers, lobbyists, and advocates once relied on budget books, but can now use technology and so can you!
This blog post will help you navigate the website of the 189th General Court to follow along with the Amendment Process in the House of Representatives, so that – together with our amendment lists – you can have the information you need to help raise our collective voice for solutions to family homelessness in Commonwealth.
This is the Legislature’s homepage on the State’s Website. Here you can explore the laws of the Commonwealth, see the status of Bills, learn about legislators, the state budget process, review past budgets, watch a live stream of democracy in action, and more. The State Budget Tab is your portal to the amendment process:
Clicking on the FY2017 Budget will bring you to this page, which includes a Letter for the Chairman of Ways and Means, a summary of the proposal and sections of the budget itself:
Clicking on the Amendment tab will bring you to a full list of all the amendments, in the order in which they were filed. Each amendment is listed with a number, the name of the lead sponsor and a title. The additional columns will post the status of the amendments once the budget debates begin. You can scroll through all the amendments or use the search box:
For example, we will enter in line item numbers, such as 7004-0101 for shelter; 7004-9024 for MRVP, and key words, such as “homeless” to compile a fill list of amendments relative to housing and homelessness, or a legislators name to see what they filed or co-sponsored. The the Sponsor Name is a link to that legislator’s page, and the Amendment Number is a link to the actual amendment. Here is the MRVP Funding Amendment, #52. You can check the Amendment Text to see if your legislator has co-sponsored an amendment.
And in that vein, please consider the website the same. Forget Facebook, mass.gov is “The People’s Page”
Next week, we will post a full list of amendments, we encourage you to use the information in this blog post to check to see if your legislator is supporting the issues you care about. Remember, they work for you! If they are, don’t forget to say thank you. If they are not, give them a call, email, or use social media to ask them to consider.
Please let us know if you have any questions and thank you for being engaged!