Hearing Alert! Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities

DTA, Children and Families, Two Generational Approaches and the Cliff Effect

 

Background on Hearings:

Tuesdays are generally the most happening days at the State House for Committee Hearings. Hearings are an opportunity for legislators and the general public to give and listen to testimony relative to specific bills.   Hearings are led by the Chairs of the Joint Committees, and other committee members are also present. There are 29 distinct joint committees – from the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy (no pun intended) to the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs and the Joint Committee on Ways and Means. For a full list of Joint Committees – click here. For the Hearing Calendar, click here.

Upcoming Hearing of Interest:

Next Tuesday, July 16th, there will be 6 distinct committee hearings. The Joint Committee on Children and Families will be hosting a hearing relative to DTA, Children and Families, Two Generational Approaches and the Cliff Effect.  The Hearing is scheduled for 10 AM in Hearing Room B1 – which is easily accessed through the Bowdoin Street Entrance/Ashburton Plaza, as demonstrated by this cool map feature on the Massachusetts Legislature website.

There are 15 bills listed on the website and copy and pasted below. You can click on the distinct Bill Numbers to learn more about each proposed piece of legislation; and then click on “View Text” to read the language as it was filed by the Legislator. You can also click on the Legislator’s name to see their picture and contact information, about their district, committees they serve on and other legislation they have filed. Because bills are filed in the House and the Senate, some may be identical or similar. When the corresponding legislation is accounted for, there are 9 distinct Bills.  All are very well intended to better address poverty, homelessness, and public benefits in the Commonwealth.

 

Bill Summaries:

  1. S.36/H.102 An Act to lift kids out of deep poverty would increase the benefit amount of TAFDC cash benefits by 10% each fiscal year until the payment standard for the household size equals 50% of the Federal Poverty Level.
  2. S.65/H.107 An Act establishing a diaper benefits pilot program would test ways to distribute diapers for children in households with low incomes.
  3. S.57/H.174 An act concerning public assistance for working families and the creation of a pilot program to address the impacts of the cliff effect: would aim to mitigate the cliff effect by establishing a test program in Western Massachusetts, and include the EDC and Working Cities Group, the Department of Transitional Assistance using the MA Earned Income Tax Credit Program and other benefit programs and resources.
  4. S.67/H.013 An Act proving immediate child care assistance to homeless families would codify that families in EA, DV, and recovery shelters receiving TAFDC shall be eligible for a child care voucher. It also would mandate that children in shelters, aged 0-3, would be screened for developmental risk factors and delays in coordination with the Department of Public Health.
  5. S.76.H.150 An Act Relative to the safety, dignity and civil rights of persons experiencing homelessness, otherwise known as the Act of Living Bill, which would extend anti-discrimination protections to persons experiencing homelessness. Here is a fact sheet.
  6. S.31 An Act providing for coordinated data and assistance to address family homelessness would mandate improved data collection and reporting by state agencies relative to family homelessness and establish a hotline and calculator tools for families, and those assisting families facing housing instability, for information about benefits and eligibility and potential cliff effects. Here is a fact sheet.
  7. S.25/H.130 An act establishing a special commission on the status of homeless women would mandate a commission of legislators, state agency officials, and the lieutenant governor or their designee, other housing and service providers, and someone who has experienced homelessness meet, collect data and research, and submit a report with recommendations for improved policies and programs.
  8. H.160 An act to end child homelessness would not permit evictions from public/subsidized housing or terminations from shelter until and unless the Department of Children and Families and Department of Housing and Community Development have developed and implemented a plan to assure all children under 18 will be housed in a location which is fit for human habitation.
  9. H.105 An Act to promote employment would ensure education and training programs are considered adequate for any work-related requirements for TAFDC and that appropriate and comprehensive screenings and assessments are considered.

What Happens at the Hearing and Beyond?

Interested parties (which can mean YOU or anyone who wants to weigh in) have the opportunity to submit written testimony and/or provide oral testimony to the committee.  Here is a helpful tip sheet from the Citizen Advocacy Center.  There will likely be a sign-up sheet outside the hearing room for those that want to provide oral testimony and a place to drop off written testimony. Generally, the bills are heard in the order in which they are listed, and Legislators and/or other State Officials are permitted to go out of turn. Public Testimony should be limited to 3 minutes. You can also just observe and submit written testimony after.

The Committee will take the full slate of testimony into consideration and has the opportunity to “re-draft” the language of the bill, which means they can make changes and refine the legislation to address any concerns, add ideas, etc.  Then the Committee can report out bills favorably, where it may then go to another committee, and hopefully, eventually, will land on the Governor’s desk for him to sign into law or veto. For a reminder of How a Bill Becomes a Law, here is the Schoolhouse Rock! Many bills linger around and expire with the Legislative Session, and may be refiled, or addressed in other ways – through the State Budget, programmatically, etc.  Our voices are always helpful for legislators to learn and understand more about homelessness and ways to better manage and solve the crisis and address housing and other inequities plaguing our Commonwealth.

AND…..after the hearing is another hearing!!! The Judiciary Committee is hosting a hearing at 1pm in Room A-1 (follow another cool map upstairs). They have a full slate of legislation related to Right to Council, rent escrow, vacancies due to foreclosure, and the HOMES Act which would seal eviction records. Click here for more on that. And check out the hearing page for the full list.

 

We would love to hear from you, what are your questions, concerns, and ideas? Which Bills do you support? Are there items that you oppose? Let us know!  

 

 

 

S.36  An Act to lift kids out of deep poverty Sal N. DiDomenico
H.102  An Act to reduce deep poverty among kids Marjorie C. Decker
S.65  An Act establishing a diaper benefits pilot program Joan B. Lovely
S.57  An Act concerning public assistance for working families and the creation of a pilot program to address the impacts of the cliff effect Eric P. Lesser
H.174  An Act concerning public assistance for working families and the creation of a pilot program to address the impacts of the cliff effect Aaron Vega
S.67  An Act providing immediate childcare assistance to homeless families Joan B. Lovely
H.103  An Act providing immediate childcare assistance to homeless families Marjorie C. Decker
S.76  An Act relative to the safety, dignity, and civil rights of persons experiencing homelessness Rebecca L. Rausch
S.31  An Act providing for coordinated data and assistance to address family homelessness Joanne M. Comerford
S.25  An Act establishing a special commission on the status of homeless women Harriette L. Chandler
H.160  An Act to end child homelessness Denise Provost
H.150  An Act relative to the safety, dignity, and civil rights of persons experiencing homelessness Liz Miranda
H.130  An Act establishing a special commission to study women and homelessness Kate Hogan
H.107  An Act establishing a diaper benefits pilot program Mindy Domb
H.105 

An Act to promote employment

Marjorie C. Decker

Graphic by BG

Post by LH

Immigrant Rights are Human Rights: An Urgent Call to Action

HUD published a proposed rule that would evict ineligible members of mixed immigration status families from living together with section 8 and in public housing, breaking families apart. For more information on the proposed rule, see this fact sheet from The National Low Income Housing Coalition and the National Housing Law Project.

Homes for Families opposes any and all attacks on immigrants and their children, including this proposed change and we are urging our network to join us in submitting public comment in opposition by July 9th.

There is a lot of guidance for how to do this and ideas on what you can say! The KeepFamiliesTogether campaign is a place to go for information. They have put together a website through which you can  submit comments directly to the government. There is also a Template for Submitting comments they created, that you can access here (you can opt not to enter personal information to access the template).

Homes for Families has created a template we thought would be especially helpful for family shelter providers.

We continue to stand in solidarity with all families, and all family members, regardless of immigration status and hope you will too.

Online Help for Tenants Facing Eviction

MADE: Eviction Help for Massachusetts, is a “self-guided online tool to help tenants who are facing eviction”. MADE was created by tenant attorneys at Greater Boston Legal Services (https://www.gbls.org/) and is free for tenants across the Commonwealth. The purpose of this tool is to make filling out the various legal eviction paperwork easier by simplifying the information to allow it to be understandable by the general population. Removing the complex legal jargon allows for tenants to better understand their rights and keep track of deadlines, and reduces the number of hours spent on filling out the paperwork. The forms that are included in the app are: Answer, Discovery Request, Motion to Intervene, Notice of Transfer, Late Answer Motion, Motion to Compel Discovery, and Notice of Interpret.

Image result for eviction images

Currently, MADE is only available in English and Spanish, but the developers are hoping to expand the number of languages they offer as it continues to gain momentum. In the next month, they will be adding Chinese, Haitian Creole, Portuguese and Vietnamese. While language can be a barrier for some users, MADE has many other features that aim to ensure that most people are able to utilize the website. One of those features is the website offering an audible version where users can have the questions and information read aloud to them. Tenants are also able to share their application with other people and/or housing case managers to help review the information to ensure that everything is filled out correctly. Once the forms are completed on the website, the information can be printed and brought to court.

To access MADE to learn more, click here (www.gbls.org/MADE)

Reference:  MADE flyer, https://www.gbls.org/sites/default/files/2019-01/MADE%20color%20flyer_0.pdf

Shirblina Thesmond
Public Policy Intern
Homes for Families

In May We Celebrate Mother Figures and Recognize Mental Health

At our May Community Meeting, Homes for Families honored mother figures and recognized the layered health challenges faced by the many mother-led families within the EA system. Mental and emotional health and well being is an important aspect of health for any mother whether in shelter or not. Being a mom, and a new mom especially, can be utterly exhausting and is a lot of work. This, coupled with even the most supportive of shelter settings, is going to have its added challenges.

It’s not surprising that the majority of parents within EA say that their stress level increased since entering EA shelter (see image below). For a link to the full report that this data point came from click here.

Our network of programs, families and allies all want families and moms to succeed. We want to create the supports mothers need to be emotionally and physically well. EA shelters provide an incredibly vital service and staff and families work hard every day to foster stability and opportunity. However, practices and policies can get in the way. Participants at community meeting named a number of punitive and unhelpful practices that hinder rather than facilitate moms’ success. Lack of flexibility around: chores where a pregnant woman can be required to mop floors in the late evening; not being able to leave your children unattended; and lack of access to transportation to get to and from appointments, for the parent, are just some examples.

There is opportunity to assess how policies and practices can be implemented through a more trauma informed and whole-family lens and for seeing each child’s success as inextricably tied to their primary caretaker’s ability to get their emotional, mental and physical needs met. Given that families experiencing homelessness are disproportionately people of color, we must continue to acknowledge and dismantle structures that systematically disadvantage people of color, women, and families with low incomes. As one Community Meeting participant said: “If middle class white people were subjected to this [unreasonable policies], they would have changed a long time ago.”

If you want to take action right now towards improving the policies that impact families in shelter, check out our most recent state budget-related blog post!

At Community Meeting, we began with notes to our mother-figures and so we will end here with some of those beautiful messages:

Liz Peck

Team HFF

The 2020 State Budget: Senate Ways and Means Edition

Boldly Moving Massachusetts Forward is the theme of the Senate Ways and Means (SWM) budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year. The proposal was released on Tuesday afternoon and amendments were due Friday by mid day. The Chairman’s letter, a summary, list of committee members and the budget proposal can be found here.

Unlike the House, where amendments are listed in the order in which they are filed, the Senate Amendments are listed by category and color coded.  Amendments on shelter and housing issues are listed under the Housing and Economic Development Category, ECO for short, and flagged with the color blue. The full list of Amendments can be found here.  And just click on the ECO, or other categories of interest.

Below is a quick summary of the proposal and the primary amendments that we are advocating for building up to the debates, which are scheduled to begin the week of May 20th.

Emergency Assistance Family Shelter:

The family shelter system was funded at $178M, which should be sufficient to cover the cost of 12 month shelter contracts based on the current caseload. As with previous Senate Ways and Means proposals, the language to allow eligibility for families at imminent risk of homelessness was included.

provided further, that temporary emergency assistance shall be provided to families who, on the date of application for emergency assistance, have no other feasible alternative housing as defined under 760 CMR 67.06(1)(b) and who, but for not having spent 1 night in a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings including, but not limited to, a car, park, abandoned building, medical facility, bus or train station, airport or campground, would be eligible for emergency assistance under clauses (i) to (iv), inclusive; provided further, that not later than March 2, 2020, the department shall submit a report to the house and senate committees on ways and means detailing expenditures under the previous proviso including the number of families who received emergency assistance;

In addition, the SWM proposal includes additional data and reporting requirements and has some other variations from the House proposal and current budget language.

Homes for Families is advocating for two amendments to the EA Proposal:

 ECO Section 2 7004-0101 Chang-Diaz, Sonia Clarification on Protections for HomeBASE Households
 ECO Section 2 7004-0101 O’Connor, Patrick M. Supporting Income Increases for Homeless Families

 

Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program:

The SWM committee proposes $110M for MRVP, a $10M increase to the program, and increases the Fair Market Rent cap from 2005 to current levels.

Homes for Families is advocating for an amendment to the MRVP Proposal:

 ECO Section 2 7004-9024 Crighton, Brendan P. MRVP Program Improvements

 

HomeBASE:

The SWM proposal made recommended changes to the program relative to the access for households in domestic violence shelters, sober living programs, and substance abuse treatment programs; no additional changes were made and the proposed funding level matches the Governor and House proposals.

Homes for Families is advocating for an amendment to the HomeBASE Proposal:

 ECO Section 2 7004-0108 Tarr, Bruce E. HomeBASE

 

We will be reviewing the full docket of amendments and compiling a list of items we support, oppose, and/or want folks to be aware of and sending out more information.  Please let your Senators know what amendments are important to you!

LH

FY2020 Budget: House Amendments

1,369 Amendments have been filed by members of the House of Representatives to the House Ways and Means Budget Proposal. Representatives have an opportunity before debates begin on April 22nd, to add their names as co-sponsors to amendments that are important to them and their constituents. Amendments include earmarks – or funding for specific programs or projects, funding increases, and rule changes on everything from housing and shelter policies to lobster processing. The full list of amendments can be found here and you can filter by key word, for example, there are 17 amendments with the word “homeless.”  You can filter by number; the state’s housing programs are listed as line items, beginning with 7004-. There are about 53 amendments to the Housing line items.  And you can filter by the name of your Representative to see amendments they filed and/or co-sponsored.

Homes for Families is prioritizing a hand full of key amendments to address homelessness.  You can help us, help your Representative, and help our collective movement towards housing and economic stability for all by contacting your State Representative and ask that they co-sponsor and advocate for the following amendments. 

  1. Amendment Number 652, sponsored by Representative Donato, to increase funding to the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program to $130 million to provide new vouchers and fund program improvements;
  2. Amendment Number 859, sponsored by Representative McGonagle, to make program improvements to the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program, including increasing the Fair Market Rent cap from 2005 to current levels;
  3. Amendment Number 699, sponsored by Representative Ferrante, to make improvements to the HomeBASE program including, earlier access for diversion, de-linking from RAFT, and allowing renewals;
  4. Amendment Number 1010sponsored by Representative Vargas, to clarify that families who deplete their HomeBASE benefit and are evicted because they can no longer afford the rent are eligible for shelter;
  5. Amendment Number 1124, sponsored by Representative Decker, to ensure that families can access shelter before having to stay in places not meant for human habitation;
  6. Amendment Number 1127, sponsored by Representative Decker, to establish upstream prevention funding; and
  7. Amendment Number 1073, sponsored by Representative Jones, called Fiscal Responsibility, which includes funding for the Emergency Assistance shelter funding, to reduce the need for supplemental funding and fully fund 12 month shelter contracts.

There are other additional amendments that we support, including:

  • Amendment Number 1129, sponsored by Representative Decker, to increase the earned income tax credit;
  • Amendment Number 428, sponsored by Representative Madaro, for a rent reporting demonstration project;
  • Amendment Number 682, sponsored by Representative Brodeur, to increase funding for the secure jobs program; and
  • Amendment Number 951, sponsored by Representative Speliotis, to fund the HomeWorks after/out of school funding for children in shelters
  • What did we miss? Please let us know in the comments section if there are other amendments we should be on our list

What happens next?

Representatives will have an opportunity to advocate to House leadership for the passage of these amendments during the week of April 22nd-26th.  Most discussion happens behind closed doors on distinctive themes.  For example, most of these amendments will be discussed in the “Housing Caucus”. If there is enough advocacy, interest, and a good case made, funding and language from the amendments will be included in a “consolidated amendment” that will be voted on by the members of the House.  Items that are not supported by leadership, for one reason or another, will be omitted from the “consolidated amendment” and be considered a no.  Join us in making the case for yes!

MA-House-of-representatives-paneling-restoration-csgallery

 

LH