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

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.

The 2020 State Budget: Senate Ways and Means Edition

Boldly Moving Massachusetts Forward is the theme of the Senate Ways and Means (SWM) budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year. The proposal was released on Tuesday afternoon and amendments were due Friday by mid day. The Chairman’s letter, a summary, list of committee members and the budget proposal can be found here.

Unlike the House, where amendments are listed in the order in which they are filed, the Senate Amendments are listed by category and color coded.  Amendments on shelter and housing issues are listed under the Housing and Economic Development Category, ECO for short, and flagged with the color blue. The full list of Amendments can be found here.  And just click on the ECO, or other categories of interest.

Below is a quick summary of the proposal and the primary amendments that we are advocating for building up to the debates, which are scheduled to begin the week of May 20th.

Emergency Assistance Family Shelter:

The family shelter system was funded at $178M, which should be sufficient to cover the cost of 12 month shelter contracts based on the current caseload. As with previous Senate Ways and Means proposals, the language to allow eligibility for families at imminent risk of homelessness was included.

provided further, that temporary emergency assistance shall be provided to families who, on the date of application for emergency assistance, have no other feasible alternative housing as defined under 760 CMR 67.06(1)(b) and who, but for not having spent 1 night in a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings including, but not limited to, a car, park, abandoned building, medical facility, bus or train station, airport or campground, would be eligible for emergency assistance under clauses (i) to (iv), inclusive; provided further, that not later than March 2, 2020, the department shall submit a report to the house and senate committees on ways and means detailing expenditures under the previous proviso including the number of families who received emergency assistance;

In addition, the SWM proposal includes additional data and reporting requirements and has some other variations from the House proposal and current budget language.

Homes for Families is advocating for two amendments to the EA Proposal:

 ECO Section 2 7004-0101 Chang-Diaz, Sonia Clarification on Protections for HomeBASE Households
 ECO Section 2 7004-0101 O’Connor, Patrick M. Supporting Income Increases for Homeless Families

 

Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program:

The SWM committee proposes $110M for MRVP, a $10M increase to the program, and increases the Fair Market Rent cap from 2005 to current levels.

Homes for Families is advocating for an amendment to the MRVP Proposal:

 ECO Section 2 7004-9024 Crighton, Brendan P. MRVP Program Improvements

 

HomeBASE:

The SWM proposal made recommended changes to the program relative to the access for households in domestic violence shelters, sober living programs, and substance abuse treatment programs; no additional changes were made and the proposed funding level matches the Governor and House proposals.

Homes for Families is advocating for an amendment to the HomeBASE Proposal:

 ECO Section 2 7004-0108 Tarr, Bruce E. HomeBASE

 

We will be reviewing the full docket of amendments and compiling a list of items we support, oppose, and/or want folks to be aware of and sending out more information.  Please let your Senators know what amendments are important to you!

LH

FY2020 Budget: House Amendments

1,369 Amendments have been filed by members of the House of Representatives to the House Ways and Means Budget Proposal. Representatives have an opportunity before debates begin on April 22nd, to add their names as co-sponsors to amendments that are important to them and their constituents. Amendments include earmarks – or funding for specific programs or projects, funding increases, and rule changes on everything from housing and shelter policies to lobster processing. The full list of amendments can be found here and you can filter by key word, for example, there are 17 amendments with the word “homeless.”  You can filter by number; the state’s housing programs are listed as line items, beginning with 7004-. There are about 53 amendments to the Housing line items.  And you can filter by the name of your Representative to see amendments they filed and/or co-sponsored.

Homes for Families is prioritizing a hand full of key amendments to address homelessness.  You can help us, help your Representative, and help our collective movement towards housing and economic stability for all by contacting your State Representative and ask that they co-sponsor and advocate for the following amendments. 

  1. Amendment Number 652, sponsored by Representative Donato, to increase funding to the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program to $130 million to provide new vouchers and fund program improvements;
  2. Amendment Number 859, sponsored by Representative McGonagle, to make program improvements to the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program, including increasing the Fair Market Rent cap from 2005 to current levels;
  3. Amendment Number 699, sponsored by Representative Ferrante, to make improvements to the HomeBASE program including, earlier access for diversion, de-linking from RAFT, and allowing renewals;
  4. Amendment Number 1010sponsored by Representative Vargas, to clarify that families who deplete their HomeBASE benefit and are evicted because they can no longer afford the rent are eligible for shelter;
  5. Amendment Number 1124, sponsored by Representative Decker, to ensure that families can access shelter before having to stay in places not meant for human habitation;
  6. Amendment Number 1127, sponsored by Representative Decker, to establish upstream prevention funding; and
  7. Amendment Number 1073, sponsored by Representative Jones, called Fiscal Responsibility, which includes funding for the Emergency Assistance shelter funding, to reduce the need for supplemental funding and fully fund 12 month shelter contracts.

There are other additional amendments that we support, including:

  • Amendment Number 1129, sponsored by Representative Decker, to increase the earned income tax credit;
  • Amendment Number 428, sponsored by Representative Madaro, for a rent reporting demonstration project;
  • Amendment Number 682, sponsored by Representative Brodeur, to increase funding for the secure jobs program; and
  • Amendment Number 951, sponsored by Representative Speliotis, to fund the HomeWorks after/out of school funding for children in shelters
  • What did we miss? Please let us know in the comments section if there are other amendments we should be on our list

What happens next?

Representatives will have an opportunity to advocate to House leadership for the passage of these amendments during the week of April 22nd-26th.  Most discussion happens behind closed doors on distinctive themes.  For example, most of these amendments will be discussed in the “Housing Caucus”. If there is enough advocacy, interest, and a good case made, funding and language from the amendments will be included in a “consolidated amendment” that will be voted on by the members of the House.  Items that are not supported by leadership, for one reason or another, will be omitted from the “consolidated amendment” and be considered a no.  Join us in making the case for yes!

MA-House-of-representatives-paneling-restoration-csgallery

 

LH

FY2020: The HWM Proposal

The Committee’s proposal prioritizes housing and homelessness needs and builds on previous investments to support individuals, families, and youth. This budget provides for an additional $25.1 million over FY 19 for housing and homelessness. Some of these investments include the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP), which will see its funding increased to historically high levels and create hundreds of new vouchers that will be utilized to keep at risk families in their homes. Other housing programs and homeless shelters for both individuals and families will also see significant investments.  – Chairman Michlewitz

The House Committee on Ways and Means released their proposal for the FY20 State Budget, which will start on July 1st.  You can access the full budget proposal by clicking here. And below is a summary of the proposal as it relates to family homelessness:

Emergency Assistance (line item 7004-0101): 

$ $165,745,706, with $4M to be invested in new contracted units that are handicapped accessible. Homes for Families is recommending $178M to avoid the need for supplementing funding.

Policy Changes

  • House Ways and Means is proposing to increase the income cap for families in shelter, from 115% of the Federal Poverty Level to 200%
  • They are proposing to require all families receive housing search assistance within the 4 weeks of placement (it was previously 16 weeks)

Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program

$ – $110,000,000 this is an increase of $10M.  Homes for Families is recommending $130M to allow new vouchers, preserve units, and make programmatic fixes

No policy changes were proposed

HomeBASE

$- $25,825,000 this is a reduction of about $9M based on projected need

No policy changes were proposed

 

Other Items of Note

  • RAFT was level funded, but includes about $5M from the “Housing Preservation and Stabilization Trust Fund”; TPP was also level funded
  • Public Housing got a needed boost from $65.5M to $72M
  • TAFDC was increased to $204M with language that would end the deduction of the $148.50 from families in shelters

 

Next Steps

  • We will thank the Committee for their thoughtful proposal
  • We will continue to learn what this proposal holds across other programs and share that information
  • We will be working to get amendments filed to address any outstanding recommendations and funding needs
  • We will send out alerts for you to advocate to your Representative to co-sponsor amendments
  • We will go to the State House the week of April 22nd to advocate and watch the debates.  We invite you to join us!

 

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

Promising Practices for Addressing A Fear Inducing Federal Policy Climate

Image result for immigration photoAt Homes for Families we look to families and the provider community to name the problems that perpetuate family homelessness and work with us to identify the solutions. Over the past year, family shelters in Massachusetts have been confronted with responding to a fear-inducing federal policy climate that is a continual threat to the families they serve, and the livelihoods of many of their staff as well. This is especially the case among immigrant families or families with members of varied immigrant statuses. In response to this challenge, we created a tool with promising practices and tips on how to respond to the federal climate we are operating within with a focus on immigrant populations.

Addressing Fears Amidst An Anti-Immigrant and Harmful Federal Policy Climate: Tips and Ideas for Family Shelter Practice

We hope providers find this tool insightful, as it showcases some of the innovative practices happening across the state currently. We welcome families to share their insights and providers to share other practices we have yet to capture!

-Liz

Director of Operations and Member Engagement

Join the Effort to Lift the Cap on Kids

If you heard that there is a policy in Massachusetts that bars certain children in families with very low income from receiving cash assistance, would you be surprised? We are one of only 17 states that have the “Family Cap” policy which denies Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (cash benefits) to children conceived while or soon after a family received benefits. Families lose about $100 per month because of this policy. This lost income makes it even more likely for families to have to choose between basic necessities like feeding their families, buying diapers and other baby supplies, or making the rent.

The reality is, this policy was established during 1995 welfare reform with the intention of reducing births among very low income families who are disproportionately black and brown. How does that sit? For us, the intent to control the reproductive lives of very low income people of color is an affront to reproductive and racial justice. No policy should treat any child as though they are invisible. There is also no research to show that the family cap decreased births among TAFDC recipients.

We are a part of a campaign to lift this family cap and acknowledge the worth of every child in our Commonwealth. The Campaign is: Lift the Cap on Kids Massachusetts. The campaign has tremendous momentum with 85 sponsoring agencies. Learn more about the campaign here.

We just held an event at the State House called Diaper Day to recognize the basic necessities that an extra $100 per month buys for a child. Below is a picture from Diaper Day with our Senate sponsor of the event, Senator Sal DiDomenico of Everett. Representative Marjorie Decker of Cambridge is the House sponsor. All of the diapers you see were donated and went to Horizons for Homeless Children!

Please join our efforts. You can like the Lift the Cap on Kids Massachusetts Facebook Page and ask your friends to like it too. If you are part of an agency, ask if your agency can sign onto the campaign. If you sign on you can attend our monthly meeting and find many other ways to get involved in this exciting effort to value all children equally. To join the campaign, please contact Naomi Meyer, Greater Boston Legal Services (nmeyer@gbls.org) or Deborah Harris, the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (dharris@mlri.org).

Liz Peck

Director of Operations and Member Engagement 
Homes for Families