Top Ten Things About Day 2 of the #SenBudget Debates

There were big things happening on Wednesday, MAY 20th, including Day 2 of the Senate Budget debates and the final episode of The Late Show with David Letterman. Therefore, it is only right that we give you the following irreverent Top 10 List:

Top Ten Things About Day 2 of the Senate Budget Debates.

[drum roll]

10. Day 1 (Tuesday) was brought to you by the letter T, but Day 2 tagged along as they talked Transportation (except not really as most of the amendments were withheld, redrafted, and therefor still up for debate and/or awaiting final decision)

9. This:

8. They said, “Yea” and we say, “YAY” for: Housing Court Expansion, RAFT increase, and equitable services for families in motels

7. Horses say “Neigh” and the Senate said “Nay” to amendments to increase funding for MRVP, HomeBASE, and TPP

6. Room 428 – with the Twitter Wall and TV’s streaming the debate, computers, chairs, and candy – is a big hit; it is easier to hear the debates (and hear funny comments). Also, The Twitter Wall.

5. They rose to talk family homelessness, even though their amendments did not pass: Sen. Lovely on equitable service in motels and HomeBASE; Chairwoman Forry on MRVP and Sen. deMacedo on his amendment to restrict shelter eligibility.

4. Maiden speeches & special guests. More great words from Senator Downing on emergency food, following his Day 1 work on ETIC and recessing in memory of Willie A, Williams III

3. Still outstanding: the amendment on the EOHHS Fund to Prevent Homelessness

2. Senate recessed at 10pm after rejecting Amendment Number 457. The remaining amendments will be sorted into YES and NO piles. On Thursday morning Senators can pull their amendments from the No pile and make their case, or pull from the Yes if they want to discuss the item on the floor.  Remaining amendments will be bundled and voted on en masse.  The debate will continue at 10am. Click here for the Amendment Tracker

And the number one thing about Day 2 of the Senate Budget Debates is:

[drum roll]

  1. A lot will need sorting out in the Conference Committee; but, we are working with positive proposals from both the House and the Senate

Thank you to the Senate for all your work to lift all families &

thank you to Dave Letterman for lifting spirits through your humor and sincerity.


#SenBudget Debates: Day 1 Recap, brought to you by the letter T:

Remember how each Sesame Street episode is sponsored by a different letter or number?  Well, if a letter were to sponsor yesterday’s budget debate, it would certainly be the letter T.

The clip above shares some great T words –tiara, tumble, terrific, tired…..

But, Day 1 of the Senate budget debates were all about:  Transparency, Twitter, above all, Taxes!

Transparency: Senate President Stan Rosenberg has talked a ton about accessibility, accountability, communication, and shared leadership in order to build a more transparent and trust worthy government.  This goal has been reflected in changes he has made to the rules that govern the Senate procedures; rules that dictate the debate process.

Twitter: the Senate President is a fan of social media as a means of engaging the people (that means all of us!), as stated here in an article about his adventures in the Reddit World.

“I’m all over civic engagement. This government belongs to the people, and they need as many avenues of access to the process as possible”

But Twitter is the social media platform tied to the debates.  An overflow room has been set up with all sorts of Technology- flat screens that stream the debate, computers to check the amendment tracker, and the best thing of all…a twitter wall! The TwitterWall is essentially a screen which highlights the tweets with the #hashtag #SenBudget. As the tweets flutter by, it also tracks the leaders – or those with the most (or best) tweets.  HFF has maintained strong presence on the Leader Board, at the close of Day 1 is in 4th place, behind @MA_Senate, Senator Jamie Eldridge, Eric Shupin from CHAPA, and ahead of the Senate President.

We share this, not because we are a leading tweeter, but because we want to remind you, interested reader, to follow along with the debates by following us at @HFFma and the #SenBudget thread to stay up to date on the debate.  And it is also a new and engaging twist in the fascinating world of politics.

Ok, so what happened in the debates?

Senate Chair of Ways and Means, Senator Karen Spilka, opened the session with an address which summarized the vision and values which guided her in developing the budget proposal. Then, the Minority Leader, Senator Bruce Tarr, also gave an address.  He discussed the shared concern of the reliance on motels and his confidence in the Senate Ways and Means proposal to make progress in addressing the crisis.  The debates went through the evening, there were a few recesses, and the day concluded just shy of 10pm.  Some of the amendments were withheld – to discuss later or to work on refining the language behind the scenes – or withdrawn. Those aside, the Senate worked through the first two categories: Other and Local, which consisted of a total of 103 amendments. Much of the conversation, and the conversation most relative to homelessness and housing issues, was on the final T word, Taxes, and specifically, the Earned Income Tax Credit


The musical accompaniment to this section of the blog post is from the Beatles:

Five amendments were filed relative to the Earned Income Tax Credit.  Two were withdrawn.  The others included:

Clerk # Ctgry Amending Sponsor Title Action
5 OTH Bruce E. Tarr Expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit Rejected RC #20
[YEAS 8 – NAYS 32]
6 OTH Michael J. Rodrigues Expand Earned Income Tax Credit and Increase Personal Exemptions Adopted RC #21
[YEAS 29 – NAYS 11]
(2nd Redraft)
OTH James B. Eldridge Film Tax Credit Adopted

As you can see the Senate went with Amendment #6, which increases the EITC for working families, increases exemptions, and freezes the income tax roll back.  The Senate also voted on a compromise between the Governor and the House relative to the Film Tax Credit.  The Governor proposed eliminating it; the House to maintain it.  The Senate is proposing a legislative study.  Please check out the news articles for details and stay tuned for more information to see how this will all play out.

It is important to acknowledge, that as other states are balancing their budgets on the backs of families (see Arizona ) and applying double standards for government benefits, the MA State Senate spent well over an hour discussing not IF they should increase the EITC and get more money in the hands of the working poor, but the best way on HOW to do it.  It was a long, but productive and interesting, dialogue about revenue, inequality and the will of voters.  But mostly, it is was a discussion on how to do more for the families that are working hard across the Commonwealth, but are still unable to make ends meet.

And, that is pretty terrific.


The Senate Amendments: The Blues Edition

Essentially, the mission of Homes for Families is to create a better world for families facing homelessness and housing instability through improved public policies and expanded resources.  So, with that, our musical accompaniment for this blog post and our inspiration for the day is this gem from blues legend B.B. King. We thank him for creating a better world with his guitar and voice and we thank you, in advance, for using your voice to to make a difference in the movement to end family homelessness.

As the previous blog post explains, the Senate Ways and Means Budget was released on Tuesday.  A total of 942 Amendments were filed- altering money and tweaking language.  Next week, the Senate will debate these amendments to finalize the their budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year.  We are asking that you please contact your Senator regarding our priority budget items:

#446, Senator Linda Dorcena Forry (Mass. Rental Voucher Program, MRVP line item 7004-9024) This amendment would increase funding for MRVP to $92 million by including necessary ‘prior appropriation continued’ language.

#422, Senator Joan Lovely (HomeBASE Access, line item 7004-0108) This amendment would expand access to HomeBASE resources beyond homeless families accessing EA shelter to families residing in domestic violence and residential treatment centers, while providing the necessary funding of $33 million.

#404, Senator Jason Lewis (Shelter Eligibility, Emergency Assistance, line item 7004-0101) This amendment would bar the Administration from imposing any further restrictions to EA family shelter eligibility in the upcoming fiscal year.

Here is a chart with all of the amendments relative to family homelessness that we feel will strengthen the Senate Ways and Mean’s proposal to lift all families:

SWM Amendment Chart Final

And if you need a little dialing music, a funky Friday beat, a reminder why some sing the blues and why we advocate the minimize the reasons to be blue, we leave you with another classic from the King of the Blues:

#RIPBBKing #TheThrillIsNotGone

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 16:  B.B. King performs at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill on April 16, 2013 in New York City.  (Photo by Debra L Rothenberg/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 16: B.B. King performs at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill on April 16, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Debra L Rothenberg/Getty Images)

The Release of the Senate Ways and Means Budget: Lifting All Families


Step 4 of the Budget Process is led by the Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.  Chairwoman Karen Spilka, of Ashland/MetroWest, is in her first term in that role.  Chairwoman Spilka has been a leader on issues relative to human services and homelessness since becoming a Representative in 2001 and Senator in 2005.  Her Senate Ways and Means (SWM) budget proposal is reflective of her strong track record on complicated issues.

First, the Message from the Chair is titled, Lifting All Families, and begins with a line from the Massachusetts Constitution, “Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity and happiness of the people”  She goes on to say,

“Our goal in this budget is to open new avenues of opportunity, strengthen networks of support, and lift all families in communities across the Commonwealth. The recommendations that follow fulfill the fundamental task of government: to be fiscally responsible, help those in need, and invest in our future.”

 Here is our funding chart of key line items:


WandM Chart Click chart to enlarge

And here is our preliminary language analysis:

 Lifting the Safety Net (Emergency Assistance 7004-0101):

  • Language is included to protect families who are at imminent risk of homelessness from having to stay in places not means for human habitation:

provided further, however, that a family who has no other feasible accommodation on the date of application for assistance and who would otherwise spend the 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 camping ground, shall be eligible for assistance;

  • The proposal would also require DHCD to give 90 day advance notice to any regulation changes to the line item that would restrict the benefit; the advance notice requirement was previously 60 days
  • There is also a requirement for DHCD to report on the numbers of families denied shelter and the reasons for denial

Lifting the constraints on housing assistance – Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (7004-9026) and HomeBASE (7004-0108):

  • Like the Governor and House proposals, the SWM proposal eliminates the restriction of prioritizing families in the Emergency Assistance program for vouchers. However, the funding level, at $85.4 will limit the number of any new vouchers and language to continue the prior appropriation, or allow the spending of FY15 surplus funding, was not included.
  • Also in line with the Governor and House Budget proposals, the SWM budget includes an increase of the HomeBASE cap to $8,000. This cap was previously $6,000 and families in shelter and motels were eligible for an additional $2,000 through the Housing Stabilization and Preservation Trust Fund.
  • The SWM proposal also includes language that would allow access to HomeBASE for families, referenced by the secretary of health and human services under 1599-0017 in addressing obstacles to maintaining or securing housing
  • And finally, the SWM proposal reduces the 24 bar for families terminated from HomeBASE to 18 months
  • The funding level is lower than we project is needed to implement the changes and be adequate for the full fiscal year

 Other items of note:

  • Included is $7M for a homelessness prevention reserve at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. This fund was included in the Governor’s proposal at $20M, but was not included in the House Budget.  The language is different in the SWM proposal, than in the Governor’s, and targets families at risk of homelessness and families in the Emergency Assistance system. It also includes reporting language.
  • $6.5M is included for the Housing Stabilization Trust Fund at the Department of Housing and Community Development.
  • As the chart indicates, there is an increase to the RAFT Program, consistent with the House Budget. The SWM language also includes a reference to the homelessness preservation fund.
  • Funding was included for Unaccompanied Youth.
  • There is an increase for Employment Services Programs.
  • While the SWM budget would decrease overall funding to TAFDC, it also proposes to increase the clothing allowance.

 So…what is next?

We have a small window to continue to read the fine print, outside sections, and determine what amendments may be needed to lift this proposal to an even stronger final Senate Budget.  Subsequently, we will look for lead sponsors to file any needed amendments, then we will need your help in contacting Senators from across the Commonwealth to co-sponsor the amendments and be active in the debate. The debates will begin next week.

 …stay tuned for amendment updates and until then, we leave you with your SWM Budget theme songs:


Happy Mother’s Day from HFF

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At Homes for Families, we see the statures of mothers reach the sky…and beyond. We see mothers who sacrifice, overcome extraordinary odds, and humble themselves to keep their children safe and thriving.

On this Mother’s Day, we honor and thank the following women who have given us extra hope and inspiration and we continue to fight against family homelessness.

  • The mother of a toddler and a teenager, who spoke on the importance of housing before legislators and is now employed as a pharmaceutical technician working to rebuild her family from the ground up, and advocating to end homelessness;.
  • The mother of three who works as a home health aide, taking care of not only the needs of her own family, but the needs of other families- all while raising her voice and awareness around domestic violence;
  • The mother of a toddler who is graduating in June with a 3.9 GPA, taking her final steps towards her major dream to work at a major hospital;
  • The mothers who boarded one of two buses heading from Western MA to Visioning Day in Worcester;
  • The mothers on our Consumer Advocacy Team and Board of Directors who help to plan, facilitate, execute, and evaluate everything Homes for Families does;
  • The mothers who trekked through snow with determination and strollers to our MRVP Cookie Day, the mothers balancing full time jobs and full time classes to provide the best for her children, the mothers who continue to instill routine and normalcy despite being bounced from shelter to shelter; and the hundreds of mothers who interact with us every year through meetings at shelters, trainings in community rooms, conversations on the phone, and last minute practice sessions at coffee shops, pizza places, and our office.

This Mother’s Day, we ask that you honor an inspirational woman in your life by donating to Homes for Families so we can continue to harness the strength of these amazing women as we work together to finally put an end to family homelessness.

A letter will be sent to the women you honor so they can see how big of an impact they have made in your life.

Your support is more than a donation. It is a message of hope, support, and encouragement to the mothers across Massachusetts working to keep their families happy, healthy, and housed. 

Thank you for all you do to support families in Massachusetts.

Happy Mother’s Day! 

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week…and we have some appreciating to do

Happy National Teacher Appreciation Week

This week (and really, all weeks) we want to acknowledge teachers and the role they play in family homelessness.


Teachers do not just play a role in educating their students; their role is much larger and more complex. They provide the warm, safe, and positive place that is accessible to all children; they supplement basic needs that many kids don’t fully get at home; they include in their lesson plans and activities critical parts to child development when those elements are slashed from the budget; and they do their best to provide individual attention to children who learn differently but are expected to perform the same.

This year, Homes for Families has been working with current and future teachers to educate them on the connection between homelessness and education, increase awareness about homeless students in the classroom, and learn about their experience with homeless students and some of the things they do for them.

Like the quote above says, teachers are expected to do so much more than teach, and we should recognize and applaud them for exceeding those expectations. We would like to share what some Lesley student teachers are doing for their students to make sure they are safe, fed, and ready to learn:

– They tell the kids to get up in the middle of the lesson and do jumping jacks to get pent up energy out

-They make a pathway of tape for kids to walk around the classroom to instill a sense of boundaries

– They keep a cot in the classroom for kids to take naps on if they need it

-They stock their desks with extra food and snacks for those who come to class hungry

This is just a small sample of the things teachers do to provide homeless students with activities and support they need to ensure they are learning, developing, and thriving.  And this is just one example of the teachers who do more than what is expected of them.

Across the country, teachers are using their own time and their own money to make sure their students are fed, supported, and educated.

And they have to.

According to the No Child Hungry Report, 73% of teachers say they have students who regularly come to school hungry and they are spending almost $40 a month to change that.  A recent report, America’s Youngest Outcasts, finds that 1 in 30 students are homeless. The 2014 Don’t Call Us Dropouts Report highlights that students who experience homelessness are 87% more likely to drop out of school.

So this week, we don’t want to just acknowledge teachers for their teaching, but for everything else that comes along with it.

We encourage everyone to reach out to a former teacher and share your gratitude, or to connect with your child’s current teacher and let them know how big of a difference they are making.

If you are a teacher- Thank you for all you do for the students and future leaders of our country and the world. Never hesitate to contact us with support around teaching homeless students, or learning more about the crisis that impacts so many children in America.


House Debate Week: You can’t always get what you want, but….

As our prior blog post illustrates, we wanted a lot from the House budget debates relative to housing:

We supported our amendment sponsors the best we could from outside of the ropes in front of the House Chambers (no matter how far the ropes are expanded!).  We gave them information and talking points, educated and encouraged other legislators to join them in the closed door discussions, and relied on you- our HFF community- to rally your legislators.

Unfortunately, none of our priority amendments for housing were passed. But as the Rolling Stones say, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”.

Chart with adopted

But thankfully, the House Budget proposes things that we need:

  • A significant increase to the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program
  • A rejection of the Governor’s proposal to further restrict shelter eligibility
  • More funding for prevention, diversion and re-housing through RAFT and HomeBASE
  • And an increased cap to the HomeBASE benefit

For more details on the House budget relative to HOUSING, check out CHAPA’s summary.

The House Budget proposes the Emergency Assistance Line item be funded at $155,058,948, which is about a $15M increase from the appropriated amount for this fiscal year and about $40M less than the total spending on shelters and motels in FY15 including supplemental funding.  Earmarks were added to the line item for playspaces and to provide additional services to families in certain motels. The line item received a bump of $180,000 to cover the cost of those additions.

The House Budget provides a strong proposal for addressing the family homelessness crisis in fiscal year 2016, and will help us to focus on maintaining and fine tuning the line items in the Senate.

Do you want to stay involved and take more action? No problem, here are a few ways:

1. We invite you to listen to this song to remind you of our MRVP ask.  We hope it inspires you to call your Senator and remind them of the need for HOUSING SOLUTIONS TO THE HOMELESSNESS CRISIS! We are very pleased with the $90.1M proposed by the House, but more $ = more vouchers! #MRVP100!

2. Stay tuned for more information about the House Budget relative to our other priority areas and for action you can take to address the shelter and HomeBASE access issues in the Senate.

3. You can also say thank you to:

  • Speaker DeLeo; Chairman Dempsey of Ways and Means; Chairman Honan of the Housing Committee; and Assistant Majority Leader Byron Rushing with a simple call or email saying “Thank you for the protections and investments for homeless families in the House Budget”
  • Representative Marjorie Decker of Cambridge for sponsoring and fighting for important amendments related to shelter, HomeBASE, welfare benefits, and EITC….and for giving an impassioned speech about her own history in public housing, the role of Government and the need for housing for all families of the Commonwealth
  • Representative Barber and Representative Gregoire for sponsoring the HomeBASE access and EA reporting amendments, respectively
  • and your representative if they signed on to the amendments that you care about

Finally, we leave you with this- a video taken at the State House.  No filming is allowed from the House Gallery where we watch the debates and the votes are taken, but thankfully this video was made of the evacuation of the State House on Wednesday morning to give you a sense of the fun and energy that is House Debate Week!

video credit: Mike Deehan from MASSter List

Thank you for all YOU do to end homelessness!