For the first time in 3 years, the State Budget was not finalized by July 1, causing a delay in the implementation of HomeBASE. Instead, a 10-day budget was passed to provide more time for legislative leadership to make compromises with the budget language and allocations. The extended process is reflective of the challenge of this year’s budget. During FY2011, the state depended on one time federal stimulus funding and the state’s own rainy day fund. While revenues are currently increasing, the loss of these funds in FY2012 caused a budget gap of close to $2 billion which needed to be closed.
After the conference committee budget was passed on June 30, 2011 the Governor reviewed it, and in a rare move, the Governor did not use his veto powers to impose any cuts to the state budget. He only made changes to the outside sections of the budget, which are parts of the budget that don’t appropriate any money. Still, The Governor did make a change in an outside section regarding the use of EBT cards to pay for tobacco, alcohol, or lottery tickets (See below). Below are brief descriptions regarding how the line items Homes for Families tracks faired in the FY2012 budget:
Emergency Assistance (EA) was funded at $97.8 million, which is technically a cut of $25 million from the total amount spent on the EA program in FY11 when including the new HomeBASE funding. The final budget states that eligibility for shelter “shall include” those who are at-risk of domestic violence in their current housing, those who are homeless due to fire or natural disaster or those who are under the age of 21, rather than the “shall be limited to” language proposed by the Governor. Families under the age of 21 will be served in congregate shelters, and those who are homeless due to domestic violence, natural disaster, or fire will be accessed and screened for entry into shelter or HomeBASE. All other families will be assessed and screened for the HomeBASE program. However, if families can’t immediately find housing through HomeBASE or a temporary HomeBASE unit, they “may” access EA shelter. Families will also be required to accept housing or housing assistance as long as it accommodates the family’s size or any disabilities and does not lead to a job loss.
In addition, the final budget states that EA money can be used for prevention activities as long as it doesn’t interfere with the ability to sign adequate shelter contracts. Money can also be transferred out of EA and into the HomeBASE program as long as EA is not projecting a deficit. Many other aspects of EA remained the same including the 6-month “clock” after a family’s income goes over 115% of the federal poverty line; the mandate that families be placed within 20 miles of their home communities if possible; and presumptive eligibility in which families can access shelter if they appear eligible and have no where else to go while they await final verification.
The Administration must provide 60 days notice to the legislature of any eligibility changes or benefit reductions in the case of a program deficit. DHCD is also required to provide reports to the legislature with program data.
HomeBASE: This new program was funded at $38.5 million. Through HomeBASE, EA eligible families will be able to access housing assistance for up to 3 years or short term flexible assistance. Families receiving ongoing rental assistance will need to renew their participation in the program every year and will not pay more than 35% of their income toward rent and utilities. Housing costs cannot be greater than 80% of Fair Market Rent, but if safe housing cannot be found within a reasonable time frame, DHCD is allowed to go over the 80% FMR limit. This rule also applies to households transitioning out of other short-term subsidy programs such as Flex Funds whose housing costs are over 80% FMR and would otherwise lose their housing unit. For families who do not utilize the on going housing assistance, they can access up to $4,000 if they only need a limited amount of help to avoid homelessness. This money can be used for a variety of purposes including rent and utility arrears and extreme medical bills. Additionally, HomeBASE money can be used to provide temporary housing while a family who has no feasible alternatives looks for housing.
Only families eligible for EA can access HomeBASE as long as they are over the age of 21. If they are under 21, they must have exited the EA young parent program. Families cannot be terminated from this program due to a single violation of their self-sufficiency plan, and if their income exceeds 115% of the federal poverty line, families may stay in the program until their income reaches 50% of Area Median Income. However, if families do not show “a good faith effort” to follow their stabilization plan or secure an apartment they will be barred from HomeBASE for 24 months if they are receiving the subsidy and 12 months if they received the $4,000 or less to avoid homelessness. HomeBASE will be administered by 12 regional agencies. However, the 12 agencies may subcontract with shelters or other organizations to provide services. A stabilization worker must be assigned to each family.
The Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program was funded at $36 million, which is $1 million less than FY2011. However, current voucher holders will not loose their housing.
Operating subsidies for public housing were level-funded at $62.5 million, which the Governor, the House and the Senate all recommended. The public housing program is still grossly underfunded and may risk losing some units due to disrepair.
Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) was level-funded funded at $260,000. In FY09, this program was funded at $5.5 million. It is not clear yet how this limited funding will be allocated.
The Employment Services Program was funded at $7.1 million, which represents a $7.8 million cut from FY2011 when the program was funded at $14.9 million. This is a tremendous decrease as it provides education, training and employment services to homeless families.
TAFDC and the Clothing Allowance: TAFDC was funded at just under $316 million, which is very close to level-funding compared to FY2011. However, the clothing allowance was altered significantly. In FY2011, families could access $150 every September for each child to help pay for increased costs due to the start of the school year. The final budget for FY2012 allows for a minimum clothing allowance of $40 or a maximum of $150 if enough funding is available.
Restrictions on use of cash benefits: The outside sections impose fines on store owners and their employees for accepting cash assistance held on EBT cards as payment for alcohol, tobacco or lottery tickets. It also requires families who pay for these items with EBT cards to reimburse DTA for those items.
Click here for funding information on more programs.