Senate Ways and Means Budget Released…what ways do they propose to change Emergency Assistance and what will it mean?

Have you ever read the Emergency Assistance Line Item? It is one long sentence, filled with semi colons, the words, “provided further” repeated over and over, and confusing language that have great impact on the poorest children of the Commonwealth.  The budget language determines eligibility, impacts shelter rules, and other details of administering emergency assistance.  In each stage of the state budget process (Governor’s budget, House Budget and now the Senate Ways and Means), significant changes have been proposed- including such things as eligibility restrictions, time limits, a separate line item for motels, shelter contract language, etc.  This week, theSenate Waysand Means Budget was released.  Below outlines their proposal for Emergency Assistance.

  • The good news is that there is not a time limit proposed for EA, as was included by the Governor and House…but there is some language that families who exceed 8 months must have a “executable shelter exit plan”….”as soon as possible”.  And families in shelter for longer than 8 months will not be eligible for the HomeBASE household assistance.  I interpret this language as an attempt to incentivize shorter stays.  The language seems fair but is certainly not ideal, as it will place additional pressures and stresses on families which can be counter productive from a clinical perspective and does not go far enough to recognize the lack of true housing resources and barriers.
  • The bad news is around eligibility.  The Senate is sticking with the 4 categories, and used the phrase “shall be” rather than “shall include” as currently included and proposed by the House. “Shall include” can be interpreted to mean that all families who meet the eligibility criteria per the regulations and income limits are eligible, including (but not limited to) the four categories.  The SWM language means that only the families that fit into the four narrow categories will be eligible….which, will exclude considerable numbers of families. At the same time, they did propose much improved language to the third category, recognizing the various reasons why a family’s income may change.  Of particular concern is the first bullet which specifies that families, homeless due to domestic violence, are only eligible for shelter if they are fleeing their current housing situation.  As a result many survivors of domestic violence are at risk, including those that left the situation and moved in with friends or family before needing shelter and those that went to a domestic violence shelter.
  • Other good news is that the Senate proposed language to assure services for families in motels!!!!  The lack of services to families in motels is one of the greatest injustices of this crisis and a primary reason why the number of families in motels is so high!
  • The Senate did not follow the House lead with the two line items-separating motels and shelters, nor did they include the 12 month contract language for shelter providers, who were recently working on a 10 DAY contract.
  • The 6 month language regarding families who exceed the income limit was maintained (as opposed to the House, which reduced the time limit to 3 months)
  • Language was added to mandate families to save 30% of their income (this was a regulation before, not budget language)
  • The Senate is also urging DHCD to convert scattered site units to congregate and, as if demand decreases, that they reduce shelter capacity by reducing the number of scattered site units.

The next step is the amendment process.  Senators have until 3pm Friday afternoon (May 18th) to file amendments and get co-sponsors.  Then we will have early next week to garner additional supports and the debates regarding the amendments will finish before Memorial Day Weekend.  It is vital that Senators hear from constituents and programs so that they can be educated about the issues as they vote and be encouraged to be champions for families experiencing homelessness.

Senators Eldridge, Donnelly, and Spilka are leading the charge regarding shelter eligibility and Senator Petruccelli is seeking amendments regarding shelter contracts and technical assistance.  Additional amendments are being filed regarding HomeBASE, RAFT, MRVP, and child care.  We will continue posting about the budget language, process and amendments, but please sign up for action alerts and like us on facebook for more information!



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