DTA Benefits and Employment Services: small and big picture update

Every month Homes for Families hosts a Community Meeting where we create space for all of our partners: families experiencing homelessness, front line shelter staff, policymakers and advocates to come together to discuss and learn about issues our network has identified as important.

At our last Community Meeting we had a presentation from the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) with some valuable updates on changes in service delivery, new supports and ongoing programs for recipients of Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC: cash benefits). We also had an eye-opening presentation by Deborah Harris from Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) that illustrated some stark statistics showing that many more families in MA are living in deep poverty than are receiving cash benefits. This post will offer some of the highlights from our meeting with links to materials and next steps.

DTA Highlights:

  • Enhanced Assessment: once a client is approved for a cash benefits (TAFDC) grant, they will be invited to participate in an assessment intended to be strengths based and support the client in engaging in employment services activities that will support their economic mobility.
  • Transitional Support Stipends: when a client stops receiving TAFDC because they become over income, each employed adult household member may receive a stipend for up to 4 months. This money is not counted against subsidized or affordable housing. It does not count against the 24 month clock. For more information see this DTA fact sheet.
  • Weekly Orientations to Learn about Employment Services Programs: every Tuesday at 10 am and Thursday at 1:00 every DTA office has an orientation where recipients of cash benefits can go to learn about the employment services programs in their area and actually connect with some of the providers running programs.
  • Full Engagement Workers: these FEWS provide more comprehensive support for clients in identifying and connecting to employment services programs and work opportunities. For a list of FEWS click here.
  • The DTA Works Internship to Work Program: this program generated some good conversation. It has a good track record of creating a pathway to work for clients who participate. Check out this flyer for more information. To apply, submit resume to the full engagement worker in your area.
  • The DTA Connect phone app is now available and allows clients to track aspects of their benefits. If a client requests heightened security on their case, they will not be able to use this app.

While DTA works to improve their services, families and service providers face challenges with accessing them. Community members present at our meeting expressed concerns about being able to get in touch with case workers, not having specific assigned case workers for cash benefits, and the challenges of waiting in crowded DTA offices to access services.

If you have questions, concerns or feedback for DTA on any of this information that you would like to be able to provide directly, please contact: John Stella, Director of Cash Policy: john.stella@state.ma.us and/or Mayra Torres, Assistant Director of Employment Services Programs: mayra.torres@state.ma.us.

The Bigger Picture:

Deborah shed light on why so many families find themselves struggling to escape poverty and homelessness to begin with: while there are more families in poverty now as compared to the early 90s the number of families on cash assistance has dropped. Whats more, the value of the cash grant has declined. In fact grants are worth half of what they were worth in 1988: on average, for a family of three, the value of a cash grant has declined by $535/month!

tafdc-grants-worth-half-1988-value-chart

One effort you can join to get more money into the pockets of families that are very low income is the campaign to lift the family cap (which limits access to cash benefits for some children). You can learn more about this campaign by contacting us or Deborah Harris: 617-357-0700 x 313, dharris@mlri.org.

Where We Go From Here:

We are committed to continuing to find policy solutions that create tools for families to increase their income, access affordable housing, and move out of poverty and into stable long term housing. While our state policymakers are working to make improvements within the system we currently have, we will continue to work with policymakers, advocates, our members, and other stakeholders to support the kinds of significant shifts in our system of cash benefits and beyond that our needed to create meaningful change.

Join us at our next community meeting on Dec. 14th!

community-mtg-flyer-dec-2016

Liz Peck
Director of Operations and Member Engagement

Election 2016: We Need Your Vote!

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Early voting in Massachusetts is officially open! At our Community Meeting last week, we learned that thanks to new legislation passed last year, registered voters have 11 days to vote in our state. Some polling locations are even open evening and weekend hours. This policy change will foster more equitable access to the right to vote especially for people who cannot get to a poll on Election Day due to limited work flexibility, child care, or other challenging life circumstances exacerbated by homelessness.

Voting this fall is not just about voting for our next President, though this is a major responsibility not to be understated. There are also 4 or more (depending on where you live) ballot questions addressing issues ranging from raising the cap on charter schools to legalizing marijuana.

There’s still time to learn more about the ballot questions and share critical information with families you may be working with! 

We urge you to learn more about the issues and get this information into the hands of families. If you can, organize child care and/or transportation to get families to the polls between now and Nov. 4th (when early voting ends) and/or on Nov. 8th (Election day)!

Get out the vote events and even parties are being planned by community organizations. At our last Community Meeting we learned about those being planned in Boston, but please share any efforts you know of in other areas (#VoteHousingSolutions). In Boston there is now a “universal ballot” and registered voters can vote in ANY PRECINCT they like. See MassVOTE’s fact sheet on early voting in Boston, their call to action in support of the city-wide event planned for this Saturday October 29th, and their registration page for those interested in volunteering to get out the vote.

At our last Community Meeting MassVOTE and Boston Tenant’s Coalition shared important information and materials on the get out the vote effort and ballot questions. Here are some basic information and resources about voting and ballot questions to share with families and staff:

A Shout Out for the Community Preservation Act (Question 5): The Community Preservation Act (CPA)(Question 5 in Boston, Chelsea, Holyoke and Springfield ONLY), squarely falls within the realm of housing. A yes vote would create thousands of affordable housing units through a small real estate tax (that does not affect renters) matched by a statewide trust fund. While the CPA would primarily fund low-income affordable housing, it would also go towards parks, playgrounds and historic preservation. You can volunteer for the “Yes for a Better Boston Campaign” in support of Question 5 by going to YESBetterBoston.org or contacting 617.423.8609.

Especially for families that are underrepresented by elected officials and misrepresented in the public eye, voting is an opportunity to step into the power and value that you hold. We need your votes and voices to improve our policies and create a state, and a nation, that is designed to benefit us all. Please, get out and vote, support families you are working with to get out and vote, and promote the get out the vote effort on social media! #VoteHousingSolutions

-Liz Peck, Director of Operations and Member Engagement

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DHCD’s Boston office is moving (and will be closed on Friday)

We received the important message below from DHCD – copied and pasted. The red font, bold, and picture are our added touches. Let us know if you have any questions and we can pass them along.   Click here for more information on the Emergency Assistance program.

IMPORTANT MESSAGE FOR PROVIDERS WORKING WITH BOSTON FAMILIES IN NEED OF EMERGENCY SHELTER OR IN EA FUNDED SHELTER

On Friday, October 28th, 2016, the Dudley Square Office DHCD Homeless Unit will be closed in order to prepare for the move to its new location at New Market Square, 1010 Mass Ave., Boston.

Families needing to apply for emergency shelter on Friday, October 28th, can call (866)-584-0653 and a DHCD homeless coordinator will assist the household in completing an application telephonically.  Families can also apply in person at the Chelsea DTA office located at 80 Everett Avenue, Chelsea, MA.

On Monday, October 31st, 2016, families needing to meet with a DHCD homeless coordinator and/or apply for emergency shelter must go to the new DHCD Homeless Unit at the DTA Office at New Market Square located at 1010 Mass Ave. in Boston.

DHCD looks forward to assisting families in our new location.

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LH

A Member Update

HFF is a membership organization of family shelter providers; as such we send regular updates out to our membership list.  I tried to send the following update out last night, but our email system is not letting it send, so I am putting it here.  If your program is not a member, please consider joining.  Contact our Director of Operations and Member Engagement, Liz Peck (epeck@homesforfamilies.org) for more information.

Membership Update

10/17/2016

242 families in motels

 

On Beacon Hill

According to the Secretary of Administration and Finance, Massachusetts is facing a $294M deficit.  Per Chapter 9C of Chapter29 of Massachusetts General Law, the Governor is required to make a cuts when there is a gap between revenue and spending.   Agencies are now determining what and where they make cuts.  My best guess is that EA will be held harmless.  I also worry that some of the MRVP funding that was just restored may be at risk.  There simply is not a lot for DHCD to cut – the entire secretariat (EOHED) accounts for 0.73% of the state budget.  Another round of early retirement packages may be offered which could impact the local offices.  I assume the cuts will be announced before the end of the month.

Meanwhile, planning for the FY18 Budget is underway.  From conversations with DHCD, they are most likely not hosting budget hearings, but we will put together and submit recommendations informally.

Homes for Families has often included a statement supporting revenue increases as a means to justify our budget asks.  In a time of economic growth, our spending should not be outpacing our revenues.  As always, we want to make sure that this is something that our membership supports.  Discussions on revenue are heating up – expect debate on taxing AirBNB and related short term rentals; the Millionaire’s Tax is creeping through the political process; Mass Budget and Policy Center is highlighting business loopholes, and many communities have a question on the Community Preservation Act on ballots this November.  The AirBNB/Short Term Rentals something that I personally feel could generate revenues directly for housing programs, but it has also been linked already to justify the increase to EITC – here is more on that from Mass Budget.  More convo’s to follow.  But please let me know if you object to us supporting revenue increases (i.e. tax increases, closing loopholes and/or fees) so we can avoid further cuts and invest in solutions!

The Inter-agency Council on Housing and Homelessness: Family Subcommittee:

The family subcommittee of the ICHH is chaired by Rose and Linn.  The group met for a second time last week.  The meeting primarily included updates on FY16 initiatives – ongoing motel reduction; expansion of HomeBASE to domestic violence and substance abuse programs; RAFT expansion to individuals; and prevention and consortium updates.  Tim Yaecker (formerly of DHCD) presented on the findings and recommendations presented in their report, which EOHHS funded, to analyze the shelter system.

Other important things:

  • Shelter Eligibility Organizing: Mass Coalition for the Homeless, along with other groups, is organizing an advocacy event and efforts regarding shelter eligibility policies requiring certain families to stay in places not meant for human habitation
  • McKinney Vento Updates: On October 17, 2016, the new regulations of the reauthorized McKinney Vento Law went into effect.  Here is a brief explanation from the MA Dept of Education and more information from the National Association of the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.  A blog post on the topic is on my to do list, but in the meantime, here is their FAQ document.
  • Housing Report: The National Low Income Housing Coalition has put together a report on the closed lists, the long lists, and wait times for public and subsidized housing. The Long Wait for a Home.
  • Names and Faces – Speaking of the NLIHC, their director is the keynote speaker at the upcoming CHAPA dinner. Diane Yentel worked at Mass Coalition for the Homeless back in the day. And also speaking of CHAPA – did you all see the memo that Rachel Heller – formerly of Homes for Families – is their new Executive Director.
  • Books: Just released is a new book on family homelessness in the US.  Included is a chapter on Boston and Massachusetts.  Not sure all that it says, but HFF is mentioned, so that is cool (well I hope it is cool, I have not read it yet). It is called Invisible Nation: Homeless Families in America.
  • Congratulations and Thank You to EmPath for a great Conference and for sharing all the slides and info on disrupting poverty.

Your Question of the Month:

Last Question Report Back: First, thank you to those of you who provided thoughtful feedback on the income cap of 115% for families in shelter.  We met with DHCD, with the On Solid Ground Coalition, to discuss this issue. The problems the cap creates for families in shelter are threefold – 1) families find temporary work or are unable to maintain employment but face the 6 month clock despite no longer having the income 2) families exceed the 115% but their jobs are in high rental markets and they are still unable to find an apartment they can afford and 3) It discourages families from seeking employment.  We are in ongoing discussions about implementing a 90 day period of sustained income before the clock is triggered to address and/or waivers.  We also proposed increasing supports to families on the 6 month clock regarding housing search, escrowing, waiving child care co-pays, and other incentives.  DHCD is doing some data analysis of how many families may be impacted.

October’s Question (sorry for the delay in getting this out, as I know you have been waiting at the edges of your seat for a new question!)

We are switching the topic to Stabilization/HomeBASE.  Many of you saw a lot of data today at the DHCD meeting, but we are always looking for more data and more stories.  Thank you to the Policy Action Team members for your help in designing this question:

How are you successful and what are the challenges you face in engaging families in HomeBASE?

  • Do you have data you can share on outcomes at the end of the stabilization period (how many families secured other housing, remained housed, re-applied for shelter, needed RAFT, lost contact, etc)
  • Any data on the numbers of families in your program that returned to shelter after taking HomeBASE?
  • Ways you have kept families engaged
  • Data, anecdotes, cries for help and/or rejoicing in success are all welcome and encouraged!

 Thanks for staying engaged.  We cannot make progress without you!

Until the next one,

Libby and Team HFF

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month #DVAM16

While the month of October is extremely important and symbolic because it offers us an opportunity to acknowledge the presence and impact of domestic violence in our society, survivors and loved ones are living with , overcoming and working to end domestic violence year round.

In the spirit of strength and courage, our Consumer Advocacy Team wishes to share these messages of hope and inspiration with all of you who will be doing this powerful important healing, work and education around domestic violence and it’s impacts on people, families and communities as a whole.

“Something will grow from all you are going through …and it will be you!”

“It’s not what you went through but how you made it out.“

“You are loved and you can make it.”

“There is hope.”    

We deserve to be safe.

dvam16

 

– Nilaya Motnalvo/Consumer Advocacy Team

Let’s talk about the 6 month clock

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:

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

So what do you think?

 

 

What happened to MRVP Funding??

And an advocacy opportunity.

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.

So, what happened?

The simple answer is: a decline in state revenues.

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.

What now?

We need to preserve every penny of this program; we know housing subsidies are the most effective tool to reduce homelessness.  Right now, we can ask the House of Representatives to please take the first step by overriding the Governor’s veto.  Click here to look up your Representative’s contact information.

“I am contacting your office to urge that the legislature override the veto of $2M to the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program, 7004-9024”

What next?

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.

– LH

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.