Conference Committee Budget Released!

The Conference Committee Budget was released late yesterday evening. The Conference Committee is composed of 3 Senators and 3 Representatives who iron out differences between the House and Senate budgets to create one set of budget recommendations. Due to a loss of $1.5 billion in federal stimulus money, the legislature had to make many difficult decisions and we thank them for their tireless work. This is one of the last phases of the budget process but the info below is subject to change as the Governor has the power to veto the funding or language in any line item.

During this year’s budget process , the issues of EA and the new short-term rental housing program called HomeBASE were closely watched by those concerned about the family homelessness crisis. The Conference Committee funded EA and HomeBASE at the same levels as the Governor, the House and the Senate. The big differences are in the language of the programs. One of the biggest issues throughout this process was whether families would have access to shelter if they couldn’t quickly locate housing through HomeBASE i.e. whether eligibility for EA would change from what it is now. The Conference report still says that shelter will be designated for those who are homeless as a result of domestic violence, fire or natural disaster or are under the age of 21. The rest would go directly to HomeBASE. However, our sense is that if families cant find housing through HomeBASE they could possibly access EA shelter or some form of temporary housing through HomeBASE. The budget language around this is complicated and we will have more about it soon. In addition, the Conference report did say that EA money could be used for prevention activities as long as it didn’t interfere with the ability to sign shelter contracts. We will provide more definitive information on this next week along with a more thorough analysis of the budget.

In regards to HomeBASE, families would be able to access housing assistance for up to 3 years – having to renew their participation in the program every year – or access up to $4,000 if they only need a limited amount of assistance. Families will not need to pay more than 35% of their income toward rent and utilities, and housing must be at 80% fair-market rent. For those receiving a full year of housing assistance, they will receive 5% less during the second and third years unless the family has to spend more than 35% of their income toward rent and utilities. If they cant find safe housing within a reasonable time frame, DHCD is allowed to go over the 80% FMR limit, which is the same for families transitioning out of Flex Funds, HPRP, etc.  The Committee budget also says that families cannot be terminated due to a single violation of their self-sufficiency plan. Families may also stay in the program if they exceed 115% of the federal poverty line until their income reaches 50% of area median income. We will provide more info on the Conference Committee’s recommendation for HomeBASE next week as well.

In general here is a quick update about other programs:

The Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program was funded at $36 million, which is $1 million less than FY2011. The Senate funded this program at $35.9 million plus an additional $8.4 million from MassHousing for a total of $44.3 million. The additional money was not included in the conference budget.

Operating subsidies for public housing were level funded at $62.5 million, which the Governor, the House and the Senate all recommended.

The Employment Services Program was increased from the House and Senate recommendations to $7.1 million. Still, in FY 2011 this program was funded at $14.9 million, a devastating cut to one of the only sources of state funding for employment programs for homeless families.

Clothing allowance. The conference committee adopted the TAFDC clothing allowance at $40 a year. DTA could pay more if there are enough funds in the account but the amount of the appropriation would not allow for more. The Governor made no provision for the clothing allowance in his budget and may veto the clothing allowance in the budget that the Legislature will send him later today.  No one can clothe a child on $40 a year!

Restrictions on use of cash benefits. Outside Section 27 would impose fines on store owners and their employees for accepting cash assistance held on EBT cards as payment for alcohol, tobacco or lottery tickets, would require recipients to reimburse DTA for any purchases with cash assistance for those items, and would expand fraud penalties.

Click here for funding information on more programs.


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