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.

The Senate Amendment Edition

Today, the Senate will begin debating the 1,167 amendments to determine which ones will help to build a more resilient Commonwealth.

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.

To review the HFF Priority List click here.

Here is a list of the co-sponsors from the the MRVP and HomeBASE Amendments:

MRVP: Ms. Forry, Mr. Moore, Ms. Lovely, Ms. L’Italien, Messrs. Lewis, Barrett and Eldridge, Ms. Chang-Diaz, Messrs. Donnelly, Joyce, Brownsberger and McGee, Ms. Donoghue and Ms. Gobi

HomeBASE: Ms. Chang-Diaz, Ms. L’Italien, Mr. Eldridge, Ms. Forry and Ms. Donoghue

Don’t forget to follow along on Twitter; we are @HFFma and will be using joining the #SenBudget conversation.  Retweets and quoted tweets are encouraged! Let’s amplify #OurVoice

The SWM Budget and Key Programs Relative to Family Homelesness

The Senate Ways and Means Budget was released on Tuesday afternoon.  The budget proposal, entitled INVESTING FOR A RESILIENT COMMONWEALTHbegins with a message from Chairwoman Karen Spilka about resiliency:

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.

image screenshot from https://malegislature.gov/Budget/FY2017/Senate Click to enlarge


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


HomeBASE (7004-0108)

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!

For tips of navigating the list of amendments, refer back to our blog post on the House Amendments; the Senate Amendments are a bit easier to navigate as they are listed by category.

And thank you, yes YOU, for your advocacy on these key issues!


PS: Bonus thanks to any retweets of our #SenBudget tweets on Twitter! 


The Senate Budget Is Coming…

 Image from http://www.mass.gov/legis/

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!


Of the 1,307 Amendments….

Members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives proposed 1,307 Amendments to the House Ways and Means Budget Proposal. Today, the House is beginning their budget debate to determine which amendments will be adopted as part of the final House Budget proposal.  We invite you to explore the lists of priority amendments, and encourage you to continue to educate your Representatives on issues of housing and homelessness so that they can be active leaders in the debates. Click here for information on the process and how to navigate the full amendment lists and contact your Representatives. 

We pulled out a list of Amendments relative to the core principles identified in our 2015 Visioning Day report:

click on the picture to enlarge
click on the picture to enlarge

And here is a list of key Amendments that we are monitoring during the debate process; note that the amendment number and Representative names are hyperlinks:

Program # Sponsor Title Notes
MRVP 52 Paul J. Donato MRVP Funding
MRVP 1018 Sean Garballey Massachusetts Rental Voucher Technical Amendment Policy, data, administrative
MRVP 446 Bradley H. Jones, Jr. MRVP Voucher Management System Data
EA 754 Marjorie C. Decker to protect children experiencing homelessness Program Access
EA 1100 Danielle W. Gregoire Emergency Assistance Data and Reporting Technical Amendment Data
EA 66 Adrian Madaro Homes for Families HFF Technical Assistance Contract
HomeBASE 1102 Christine P. Barber HomeBASE Expansion, Renewal, & Forward Funding Funding, program expansion
Public Housing 1149 Russell E. Holmes Housing Authority Improvements Funding
Housing Court 15 Jay R. Kaufman Housing Court Expansion Program Expansion
Housing Court 18 Jay R. Kaufman Statewide Housing Court Program Expansion
Housing Court 1180 Chris Walsh To Fund the Expansion of the Housing Court Program Expansion
Child Care 1103 John W. Scibak Early Education and School Age Rate Reserve Funding
Child Care 878 Stephan Hay Early Childhood Education Workforce Payrate Funding
Child Care 1209 Jay D. Livingstone Early Education Quality Improvement Funding
SNAP/MassHealth 1041 Jay D. Livingstone Common Application Portal/SNAP Gap Amendment Technology
New Commission 1037 Gloria L. Fox Economic Mobility and Stability Program Commission/Study
EITC 747 Marjorie C. Decker increasing the Massachusetts Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) from 23% to 50% of the federal credit Funding
EITC 751 Marjorie C. Decker granting victims of domestic violence and abandoned spouses access to the EITC, and EITC outreach Program Expansion
TAFDC 756 Marjorie C. Decker updating state disability standard Program protections
TAFDC 896 Antonio F. D. Cabral TAFDC Job Search Program protections
TAFDC 1152 Paul McMurtry Caring for Family Members with Disabilities Program protections

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.


Navigating the sea of amendments

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!

Budget Books of Yesteryears
Budget Books of Yesteryears

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.

Go to https://malegislature.gov/….

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: HomePage

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.


You can always go to www.wheredoivotema.com to look up your legislator and/or use the People Tab to find your State Representative’s contact information.  The House option under the People Tab gives a full list of Representatives with their party, room number, phone number and email.  Each Representative also has a page; this is Representative Fox’s page as an example:


I chose her page, because after 31 years of championing issues of housing and justice, she will not be seeking re-election, and because nobody reminds us that the State House is “The People’s House” like she does.

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!