Meeting Scarcity with Abundance, in Community

Hunger and homelessness are interlinked and the experience of both can lead to higher risk of family separation, being held back at school, experiencing higher health risks such as asthma, and developmental delays. National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is an annual program to bring attention to these important issues.

Across the Commonwealth over 90,000 children live in neighborhoods where over 30% of residents have incomes below the poverty line. This means a household of four is using their income of about $25,570 a year to pay for the cost of housing, utilities, food, childcare, transportation, and more. These basic necessities are often put in competition with one another, as housing prices continue to rise.

This year, Homes for Families will be participating in National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week during the week of November 16th to the 24th. We will be sharing important information on hunger and homelessness nationally and in the Commonwealth.

We are witness to the ways in which families experiencing housing instability and food scarcity meet these challenges with resourcefulness and resiliency, creating abundance in the face of scarcity. There are many examples of how family shelters, and community partners in Massachusetts do this with families as well. At our November Community Meeting we had a dialogue about just this and key themes emerged around the importance of autonomy, control and choice for families. Here are some of the examples of where scarcity in housing and food stability is met with abundance, followed by some opportunities to learn and improve when it comes to the family shelter setting.

Promoting Abundance in Community Done Well:

  • Donations when aligned with what families want: E.G. Asking for size, need, and following up to ensure need is met
  • Gift cards
  • Gift cards for teens and tweens specifically – gives control and autonomy for families to choose
  • Taking parent wishes, making it beautifully wrapped
  • Case manager collecting from families what is wanted
  • Asking families what food they want for the holidays and if they want to help prepare

Opportunities for Improvement/Lessons Learned:

  • The way staff receives donations- make sure it is family-centric and empathetic
  • Families to have increased involvement with which foods are available for greater cultural variety, for general variety in what is served- pantries to reach out to charities for support in meeting need for fresh foods, and a variety of foods.
  • Understand the impact of staff having toys visible- families will ask about specific toys; the impact of when families know what other families have received
  • Vetting sources of donations
  • Working on effectively managing and getting gifts out: The process, being understaffed, having few vehicles. Where could vehicle/driving donations be made by services like Uber/Lyft?
  • Giving throughout the year, and shelters using gifts as incentives.

Whether it’s through a communal meal, being surrounded by loved ones, or a warm welcome , when we find abundance through the support of community, so much more is possible.

-Team HFF

Better Understanding Public Charge

We previously posted on how you can take action to prevent the public charge rule from taking effect, and despite Massachusetts and and other states surpassing their goals on advocacy in opposition to the proposed changes around public charge, the new rules are slated to take effect October 15th. Some members of the immigrant community will be assessed more harshly when officials are determining if they will be a public charge, and their applications for legal status therefore denied.

We had the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Coalition (MIRA) present at our September Community Meeting. They are a part of a larger nationwide coalition Protecting Immigrant Families, and emphasized that no one needs to un-enroll in benefits. Immigrants affected by public charge assessments are those who will not be found eligible for public benefits to begin with.

For more on what public charge is, what will be changing, and how you can take action see MIRA’s fact sheet. You can also go to https://ProtectingImmigrantFamilies.org/. Congress can act to prevent the Trump administration from having the funding to carry out the rule changes. You can get your voice on record with your congresspeople, via the Protecting Immigrant Families website, where it says Take Action. Most likely, our best bet to stop the changes, is through one of the 6 lawsuits underway.

You can also share stories of impacted families with your elected officials (if it’s not your story of course seek families’ approval and keep their information anonymous). All stories are helpful: not only related to public charge, but as they relate to other immigration issues including on the pending HUD proposal that would make families of mixed immigrant status ineligible for section 8 housing. See our previous post on this!

In solidarity with immigrant families,

Team HFF

Act NOW to Stop the Roll Back of Access to the Nation’s Largest Food Assistance Program

A proposed rule from the Trump administration threatens to take away access to food assistance for millions of people, including hundreds of thousands of children. The proposed changes would severely limit who could access SNAP: the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps). You can find more information on the proposed rule from the Hands Off SNAP campaign here. Please take action today!

Take action now and submit comment in opposition to this proposed rule by going here (to the Hands off SNAP campaign page). The deadline to submit comments is Monday, September 23rd.

This latest attack on families is an attack on basic human rights.

Image result for food is a human right images

New Restrictive Child Care Regulations May Impact Families

Did you know that a lot of decisions that impact child care access and quality in Massachusetts happen outside of legislation, outside of the state budget, and outside, often times, of public view? State agencies that run important statewide services like housing, shelter, and child care actually have a lot of autonomy in rules (policies and regulations) they set that impact families seeking and receiving those services. While we spend a lot of time advocating for important legislation and state funding (which IS really important) we also spend time working with state agencies directly around how to improve the policies and regulations that they have control over. This is called administrative advocacy (a.k.a  advocacy to the Governor’s administration, since all state agencies report to the Governor). We always do this advocacy in a way that is informed by the HFF network of family shelter providers and families experiencing homelessness. There’s opportunity right now for you to learn more, and prepare to take action, on certain regulations at the Department of Early Education and Care in regards to child care services.

Image result for child care images

Following a change in federal law, some new subsidized child care regulations took effect in March, 2019. The really great news is that the federal law says that child care has to be authorized for 12 months at a time, so that families don’t need to jump through hoops multiple times through out the year to continually get their child care re-authorized. During the 12-month period, child care can only be terminated for a few narrow reasons.

However, some of the Massachusetts state policies that were issued in March to implement the new federal law, are concerning and depart from the intention of the federal law including:

  • Requiring unnecessary reporting of information by families to EEC;
  • Making relatively minor infractions liable to be counted towards intentional program violations or fraud (for example, if a consumer does not return a request for information); and
  • Significantly limiting which education programs are to count as a “service need” or valid reason a parent needs child care. Some of the quality education programs subsidy holders are enrolled in right now no longer count based on the MA policy.
  • Fees associated with subsidized care also continue to be far more expensive than the federal benchmark for affordability.

These new regulations do not impact everyone accessing subsidized child care in Massachusetts, for example folks with a Department of Children and Families (DCF) contract slot or a Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) cash assistance program (TAFDC) voucher are largely not affected, but parents accessing other types of subsidies like a basic income eligible subsidy for child care, homeless contract slots, or teen parent contract slot are more likely to be affected.

What are your thoughts, questions, experiences?

If you or someone you work with or know may be struggling with some of the barriers posed by these policies, please reach out to Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS). Regardless of where you are in Massachusetts, GBLS may be able to provide legal help and are interested in gathering stories to help in advocacy to change these policies. You can contact Sarah Levy slevy@gbls.org, 617-603-1619 or GBLS’s Welfare Law Unit at:  617-603-1806. If you may be interested in attending the next Department of Early Education and Care board meeting to share your thoughts on the policies during their open comment period, please let us or GBLS know and we will keep you posted when the meeting date is announced.

Liz and Team HFF

Hearing Alert! Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities

DTA, Children and Families, Two Generational Approaches and the Cliff Effect

 

Background on Hearings:

Tuesdays are generally the most happening days at the State House for Committee Hearings. Hearings are an opportunity for legislators and the general public to give and listen to testimony relative to specific bills.   Hearings are led by the Chairs of the Joint Committees, and other committee members are also present. There are 29 distinct joint committees – from the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy (no pun intended) to the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs and the Joint Committee on Ways and Means. For a full list of Joint Committees – click here. For the Hearing Calendar, click here.

Upcoming Hearing of Interest:

Next Tuesday, July 16th, there will be 6 distinct committee hearings. The Joint Committee on Children and Families will be hosting a hearing relative to DTA, Children and Families, Two Generational Approaches and the Cliff Effect.  The Hearing is scheduled for 10 AM in Hearing Room B1 – which is easily accessed through the Bowdoin Street Entrance/Ashburton Plaza, as demonstrated by this cool map feature on the Massachusetts Legislature website.

There are 15 bills listed on the website and copy and pasted below. You can click on the distinct Bill Numbers to learn more about each proposed piece of legislation; and then click on “View Text” to read the language as it was filed by the Legislator. You can also click on the Legislator’s name to see their picture and contact information, about their district, committees they serve on and other legislation they have filed. Because bills are filed in the House and the Senate, some may be identical or similar. When the corresponding legislation is accounted for, there are 9 distinct Bills.  All are very well intended to better address poverty, homelessness, and public benefits in the Commonwealth.

 

Bill Summaries:

  1. S.36/H.102 An Act to lift kids out of deep poverty would increase the benefit amount of TAFDC cash benefits by 10% each fiscal year until the payment standard for the household size equals 50% of the Federal Poverty Level.
  2. S.65/H.107 An Act establishing a diaper benefits pilot program would test ways to distribute diapers for children in households with low incomes.
  3. S.57/H.174 An act concerning public assistance for working families and the creation of a pilot program to address the impacts of the cliff effect: would aim to mitigate the cliff effect by establishing a test program in Western Massachusetts, and include the EDC and Working Cities Group, the Department of Transitional Assistance using the MA Earned Income Tax Credit Program and other benefit programs and resources.
  4. S.67/H.013 An Act proving immediate child care assistance to homeless families would codify that families in EA, DV, and recovery shelters receiving TAFDC shall be eligible for a child care voucher. It also would mandate that children in shelters, aged 0-3, would be screened for developmental risk factors and delays in coordination with the Department of Public Health.
  5. S.76.H.150 An Act Relative to the safety, dignity and civil rights of persons experiencing homelessness, otherwise known as the Act of Living Bill, which would extend anti-discrimination protections to persons experiencing homelessness. Here is a fact sheet.
  6. S.31 An Act providing for coordinated data and assistance to address family homelessness would mandate improved data collection and reporting by state agencies relative to family homelessness and establish a hotline and calculator tools for families, and those assisting families facing housing instability, for information about benefits and eligibility and potential cliff effects. Here is a fact sheet.
  7. S.25/H.130 An act establishing a special commission on the status of homeless women would mandate a commission of legislators, state agency officials, and the lieutenant governor or their designee, other housing and service providers, and someone who has experienced homelessness meet, collect data and research, and submit a report with recommendations for improved policies and programs.
  8. H.160 An act to end child homelessness would not permit evictions from public/subsidized housing or terminations from shelter until and unless the Department of Children and Families and Department of Housing and Community Development have developed and implemented a plan to assure all children under 18 will be housed in a location which is fit for human habitation.
  9. H.105 An Act to promote employment would ensure education and training programs are considered adequate for any work-related requirements for TAFDC and that appropriate and comprehensive screenings and assessments are considered.

What Happens at the Hearing and Beyond?

Interested parties (which can mean YOU or anyone who wants to weigh in) have the opportunity to submit written testimony and/or provide oral testimony to the committee.  Here is a helpful tip sheet from the Citizen Advocacy Center.  There will likely be a sign-up sheet outside the hearing room for those that want to provide oral testimony and a place to drop off written testimony. Generally, the bills are heard in the order in which they are listed, and Legislators and/or other State Officials are permitted to go out of turn. Public Testimony should be limited to 3 minutes. You can also just observe and submit written testimony after.

The Committee will take the full slate of testimony into consideration and has the opportunity to “re-draft” the language of the bill, which means they can make changes and refine the legislation to address any concerns, add ideas, etc.  Then the Committee can report out bills favorably, where it may then go to another committee, and hopefully, eventually, will land on the Governor’s desk for him to sign into law or veto. For a reminder of How a Bill Becomes a Law, here is the Schoolhouse Rock! Many bills linger around and expire with the Legislative Session, and may be refiled, or addressed in other ways – through the State Budget, programmatically, etc.  Our voices are always helpful for legislators to learn and understand more about homelessness and ways to better manage and solve the crisis and address housing and other inequities plaguing our Commonwealth.

AND…..after the hearing is another hearing!!! The Judiciary Committee is hosting a hearing at 1pm in Room A-1 (follow another cool map upstairs). They have a full slate of legislation related to Right to Council, rent escrow, vacancies due to foreclosure, and the HOMES Act which would seal eviction records. Click here for more on that. And check out the hearing page for the full list.

 

We would love to hear from you, what are your questions, concerns, and ideas? Which Bills do you support? Are there items that you oppose? Let us know!  

 

 

 

S.36  An Act to lift kids out of deep poverty Sal N. DiDomenico
H.102  An Act to reduce deep poverty among kids Marjorie C. Decker
S.65  An Act establishing a diaper benefits pilot program Joan B. Lovely
S.57  An Act concerning public assistance for working families and the creation of a pilot program to address the impacts of the cliff effect Eric P. Lesser
H.174  An Act concerning public assistance for working families and the creation of a pilot program to address the impacts of the cliff effect Aaron Vega
S.67  An Act providing immediate childcare assistance to homeless families Joan B. Lovely
H.103  An Act providing immediate childcare assistance to homeless families Marjorie C. Decker
S.76  An Act relative to the safety, dignity, and civil rights of persons experiencing homelessness Rebecca L. Rausch
S.31  An Act providing for coordinated data and assistance to address family homelessness Joanne M. Comerford
S.25  An Act establishing a special commission on the status of homeless women Harriette L. Chandler
H.160  An Act to end child homelessness Denise Provost
H.150  An Act relative to the safety, dignity, and civil rights of persons experiencing homelessness Liz Miranda
H.130  An Act establishing a special commission to study women and homelessness Kate Hogan
H.107  An Act establishing a diaper benefits pilot program Mindy Domb
H.105 

An Act to promote employment

Marjorie C. Decker

Graphic by BG

Post by LH

Immigrant Rights are Human Rights: An Urgent Call to Action

HUD published a proposed rule that would evict ineligible members of mixed immigration status families from living together with section 8 and in public housing, breaking families apart. For more information on the proposed rule, see this fact sheet from The National Low Income Housing Coalition and the National Housing Law Project.

Homes for Families opposes any and all attacks on immigrants and their children, including this proposed change and we are urging our network to join us in submitting public comment in opposition by July 9th.

There is a lot of guidance for how to do this and ideas on what you can say! The KeepFamiliesTogether campaign is a place to go for information. They have put together a website through which you can  submit comments directly to the government. There is also a Template for Submitting comments they created, that you can access here (you can opt not to enter personal information to access the template).

Homes for Families has created a template we thought would be especially helpful for family shelter providers.

We continue to stand in solidarity with all families, and all family members, regardless of immigration status and hope you will too.

Reducing the Financial Burden on Low Income Children and Families

The Lift the Cap on Kids Campaign has been working tirelessly for the past two years to repeal the welfare family cap. Currently, the cap excludes 8,700 children from their families’ cash assistance (Transitional Aid for Families with Dependent Children), leaving parents with even less money than other TAFDC recipients to provide necessities for their children. While the repeal was included in the FY19 budget, the Governor returned it with an amendment that would have allowed the repeal, but then cut off cash benefits for thousands of children with a disabled parent. This amendment was rejected by the Legislature and a stand-alone repeal of the cap was reenacted, but in the end was vetoed by the Governor after the legislative session had ended. The coalition is still fighting to pass legislation (S. 37 and H. 104) to provide benefits to children without regard to if the child was conceived or born after the parent already began receiving aid.

The coalition behind this campaign, called Lift Our Kids, Image may contain: text that says 'LIFT OUR KIDS'is also supporting a new bill: “An Act to Lift Kids out of Deep Poverty” (S. 36 and H. 102).  Since the TAFDC program began in 1995, thousands of children and families have fallen into “deep poverty.”  “Deep poverty” is defined as income that is below 50% of the federal poverty level (FPL). This bill aims to end deep poverty in Massachusetts by increasing the maximum grant amounts for TAFDC and Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children (EAEDC) by 10% each year until they both equal 50% of the FPL.  Once the grant amounts reach 50% of the FPL, they would be adjusted for inflation each year so that they remain at 50% of the FPL.

Families are often doing everything within their power to ensure their children are fed, housed, and cared for, but policies such as the family cap and grant amounts below 50% of the FPL make it difficult for families to achieve that goal. The cap on kids and deep poverty severely threaten the health and wellbeing of thousands of children and parents across the Commonwealth.

What you can do to take action! 

At this time, the best way for agencies to support these two bills is to sign on to become a supporting organization by emailing Naomi Meyer at Greater Boston Legal Services: nmeyer@gbls.org.  You can also  follow the campaign on facebook and twitter.

Shirblina Thelismond, Public Policy Intern

and Team HFF