Message from DTA (@DTA_Listens) about SNAP Benefits and DTA staffing due to the Government Shutdown.

**UPDATE**

We will add additional updates as we receive new information and resources

Jan 18th, 2019

Click here for more useful information from Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) re: SNAP, other food/nutrition programs, cash benefits, medical, housing, and unemployment.


Jan 16, 2019

Thank you to Mass Law Reform Institute for these flyers; please share with SNAP Recipients.  ENGLISH and SPANISH.


Jan 15, 2019

DTA has posted a Q&A on the early issuance of SNAP benefits on the state website.  Here is the link. 

 


Jan 14, 2019

The message below is copy and pasted from an email that was sent to DTA Advisory Boards and others:

  • Because of special circumstances, SNAP benefits for February are being sent early.
  • The vast majority of SNAP clients will get their February benefits between January 17th – 20th.
  • SNAP rules and eligibility have not changed.
  • We urge people to spend carefully to ensure that SNAP benefits last throughout February.
  • We do not know about March SNAP benefits at this time due to the federal government shutdown. We will share updates as soon as we have them.
  • For a future updates, please visit:  http://www.mass.gov/DTA.
  • DTA staff will be focusing on processing cases this week in order to ensure that clients receive their February SNAP benefits early.  This will indeed have an effect on our wait times associated with the DTA Assistance Line.
  • Please encourage clients to utilize the DTA Connect mobile app or the self-service options available of the DTA Assistance Line whenever possible.
  • Instructions on how to navigate DTA Connect can be found by accessing the following link:  https://www.mass.gov/info-details/take-action-on-your-snap-case

Please feel free to share. (That is from them and from HFF)

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HFF Annual Member Meeting and Appreciation Lunch

We held our annual member meeting and appreciation lunch on December 4th at Clark University, bringing together family shelter providers to show appreciation for their incredible work, celebrate success, and build agreement around policy advocacy priorities and questions for the year head.

Providers offered insight and reactions around areas of policy advocacy successes we collectively achieved in 2018 and voted on priority policy advocacy proposals for 2019. We honored both an agency and an individual with inspiring leadership awards: Community Teamwork Inc. and Shani DeSchamps from Citizens Inn.

Agencies had the opportunity to learn about each others’ work in an activity centered around these 5 questions that came from Visioning Day and other data Homes for Families has gathered over the past year:

Today is about appreciating you, our members! To do that, we want to give you an opportunity to brag to each other and share with each other.  Please share a success or your proudest accomplishment in the past year.

With the implementation of diversion, many families with more short-term economic barriers no longer enter shelter, leaving a higher concentration of families with significant barriers and more history of trauma in your shelter programs. What steps has your program taken to adapt your practices as a result of the changing needs and dynamics within your programs?

Children make up around 2/3rds of the people in the EA program.  What specific supports, practices, and/or initiatives do you have for children in your program, who range in age from newborns to teens?

We know family homelessness is a direct result of racist housing policies and that the nature of shelters – as rule enforcers and gate keepers – can perpetuate racism and systems of oppression.  What have you, or your program, done or could you do to be more actively anti-racist and address organizational diversity and issues of race?

We all know that this work is hard and has been getting harder. Share how a family – be it a child or parent – has inspired you, made you laugh, or really validated your work.

We presented this video (we welcome you to watch the video, but note some of the content may be triggering and there is profane language). This spoken word drills down to the intersectional nature and reality that families (and some staff) within shelters are facing, taking the veil off of why families may behave the way they do sometimes: angry, frustrated, impassioned. It exposes the underlying systems of oppression and injustice driving these behaviors and emotions.

The afternoon included discussion around the EA system re-procurement. Participants worked at tables to answer the following questions:

  1. What are the top 3 issues that you hope the re-procurement will address?
  2. What “vision” do you have for a new system?
  3. DHCD has talked about “multi disciplinary” teams as part of their vision for stabilization. What are your top questions, ideas, excitements, and concerns about this approach.

The day ended with a sharing of affirmations, including: “Thank you for your work and commitment” and “You are keeping children safe and alive”.

There is much more to come: we will be continuing to call upon member agencies to engage in an organized, collective response to the re-procurement, and providing opportunities for staff and families to advocate collectively on priority policy proposals through MRVP Cookie Day, advocacy trainings, legislative breakfasts, ongoing work at the Policy Action Team table, Directors/CEOs meetings, and more to amplify provider and family voice.

We reiterate our appreciation for the work of our member agencies and the collective efforts to address family homelessness in the Commonwealth.

annual mtg

DHCD posted an RFI for EA to inform the RFR. Wait…what???

Imagine a world without acronyms.  Let’s take some pause to explain what that means and give some history and context.

Translation: The Department of Housing and Community Development has posted a Request for Information relative to the Emergency Assistance Program to inform the Request for Responses, which is a bid or application for a contract and funding.

We should start with the question, “What is a re-procurement?” The answer, “to procure something again” is not exactly helpful, so turning we turned to Google:

procurementprocure

In this context, it is the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, specifically the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), is seeking to obtain shelter units for families experiencing homelessness, to meet the state’s legal and moral obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of children. Because the state currently has contracts with nonprofit agencies to provide shelter, this is a re-procurement.  It is an opportunity to re-contract – potentially funding new programs and ending contracts with others, to adjust portfolio size and program models; to make financial adjustments; and to introduce new program components, outcome measurements, and expectations.

The Request for Information (RFI) is a key component to the “especially with care or effort” part of the definition. This is when the purchaser (DHCD) takes the time to understand the needs and nuances of the system and the people it serves through a formal written series of questions. Potential bidders (shelters) and the broader community have an opportunity to respond the the questions. Responding to the RFI is not mandatory; respondents are not required to answer all of the questions. Responses must be made through the state’s bid solicitation system (CommBuys) and are considered public information.

Q: What is being re-procured?

The Emergency Assistance (EA) Program, commonly referred to as Family Shelter. This program currently contracts about $170 Million per year across about 50 programs to serve approximately 3,700 households per night.

Q: What are the steps of the re-procurement?

rfr steps

Q: When was the last re-procurement and what changes were made? 

The last procurement process took place in 2008 and the new contracts were implemented in 2009.  As part of the last re-procurement:

  • The Housing Assistance Program, which was responsible for prevention and housing search, was dismantled and agencies were given the flexibility to bring housing search into programs or contract with an outside agency.
  • Stabilization was added as a responsibility of EA programs, again through direct programming and staffing or subcontracts.  Prior to the 2009-2019 contracts, stabilization was not a requirement. Some programs had outside funding and independent programs, but many did not.
  • There were a few programs that were eliminated, a few new programs added.  The overall shelter stock shifted – reducing the number of congregate shelters and adding more scattered site units. Rates, staffing patterns and program sizes also shifted.

Q: What was the context then and what has happened since? 

  • Around the time of the 2009 Procurement, a Commission to End Homelessness released a 5 year plan that included broader systems change efforts and investments, primarily in prevention pilots.  The vision was that investment in prevention would lead to a decrease in homelessness, and the money saved from the reduced need for shelter would be reinvested in housing.
  • The recession and housing crisis hit soon thereafter, and homelessness across the nation and in MA skyrocketed.
  • Since the 2009 Procurement, there have been many policy changes and shifts including:
    • Transferring the EA and individual shelter system oversight from the Department of Transitional Assistance to DHCD
    • The HomeBASE program was launched, revamped, revamped, and revamped
    • More restrictive eligibility criteria was implemented
    • The number of EA shelter units expanded by approximately 1,700 units, including the implementation of the co-shelter model
    • Diversion by EA providers was implemented in the local offices, including pilots for prevention
    • There have also been shelter contract funding cuts and re-negotiations
    • Over the ten year period, the nightly census of families in shelter increased from about 1,700 families to a high of 4,800 (with 2,400 in motels) and has plateaued to about 3,700 families (with 32 in motels)

So, while a procurement is certainly a time of change, it does not preclude other changes after implementation.

Q: What changes are anticipated in this procurement? 

That is for all of us to influence,  and for DHCD and the Baker/Polito Administration to decide. Here is the statement from the RFI cover letter with DHCD’s vision:

DHCD envisions an EA system that prevents families from becoming homeless, safely shelters families for whom homelessness is unavoidable, works to quickly find stable and sustainable housing for families in shelter, supports families in their transition into the community, and connects families with the services and supports they need. Consistent with a Housing First approach, DHCD believes that families can best address their needs when they are in their own homes.

The document asks specific questions in the following areas:

  1. Respondent’s Background Information
  2. Prevention and Diversion
  3. System Connections for Families in Shelter
    • Mental Health and Other Disabilities
    • Employment
    • Length of Stay
  4. Portfolio Mix and Size
  5. Housing
  6. Post-Shelter Stabilization
  7. Data and Finance
  8. Other

The RFI can be accessed here. Homes for Families will looking to our community to inform our response and encourage agencies and individuals to submit responses as well.

 

LH

Nilaya Montalvo, HFF Deputy Director, honored with the 2018 Community Engagement Award from CHAPA.

On December 4th 2018, Nilaya stood before approximately 1,200 leaders in the housing industry to accept  the 2018 Community Engagement Award from the Citizen’s Housing and Planning Association (aka CHAPA). The award was presented by Sr. Margaret Leonard, the legendary former director of Project Hope and one of the founders of Homes for Families, and by Libby Hayes, who has worked in partnership with Nilaya at HFF for over a decade. Upon accepting the award, Nilaya shared brief remarks:

I cannot thank you enough, especially since so many of you have worked alongside me on so much of the work that I am being recognized for! Mami, Cari, Jessy – thank you

What I have done is not extraordinary,

I know this because every time I meet a family who is struggling to beat back oppression…struggling to shelter their children from the elements…… from systems, from injustice….. I am reminded exactly what extraordinary is.

I want to wholeheartedly appreciate the recognition for my work, while at the same time I want to share this recognition with all of the, moms, dads , grandmothers custodial guardians that swim against the tide in an effort to protect and stabilize their families

I want to share this recognition all of the children who are faced with constant change and uncertainty that is brought on by simply being poor or housing unstable.  I wake up with them in my heart, the astronomical cost of housing is not their cross to bear and yet here we are.

In my tradition, to show support or solidarity with anyone who is oppressed, marginalized or in need, is not extraordinary but necessary for society as a whole. We understand that an injury to one is an injury to all.

Thank you and lets continue to take care of each other.

In the words of a member of the HFF Consumer Advocacy Team,

“Nilaya – Thank you for being the light and force we need in this world to be reminded of our own power and voices.  Your love for the truth is the epitome of a revolutionary!”

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Hunger and Homelessness Awareness at this Month’s Community Meeting

For November’s Community Meeting we came together to learn about and discuss how to oppose the Trump Administration’s proposed rule regarding immigrants and public charge, including its chilling impact on families’ desire to access important food and nutrition programs. Representatives from the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute gave an informative presentation. We also learned about the food, nutrition, shelter and stabilization-related services at Action for Community Based Development (ABCD).

We would like to share some of the poignant quotes from our meeting:

“It’s a blatant scare tactic, preventing people to go [access supports] they can get, such as housing.”

“I fear working at a shelter and people not wanting to apply for SNAP and other services because of the fear which creates more food scarcity.”

“With our state laws, if [families] apply for EA and they cannot get housing, what will be their pathway [out of shelter]; what would be next for those families?”

“If a family is not applying for SNAP, where is the money for the food going to be coming from? It’ll have to come from the shelter, food pantries, etc.”

“Families/people come in late [for a new placement], it’s dark out, they have no transportation. We have been working on keeping regular stalk of meals (mostly frozen) that will be brought to intake for the families. Providing them with welcome bags that include market basket vouchers”

There is a lot of concern, fear, and anger about how access to food, shelter and permanent housing would be impacted by the proposed federal rule. The fear that families are feeling is already having an impact. For more on the “chilling effect”, please see this recent report from Mass Budget. For details on the proposed regulation and how to take action, please see our previous blog post: Support Immigrants and What We Stand for as a Nation! And for more on ABCD’s services, please go here.

The main message for families: stay on benefits! Nothing can be used against any families as far as benefits they are receiving until 60 days after the rule becomes law (if we don’t stop it first).

We will continue to fight, with you, for improved access to food, nutrition and shelter for all. We thank our community of engaged providers and families, and urge you to submit public comment by December 10th. Please see our previous blog post for more, but for quick links, public comments can be submitted via Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition’s micro-site (MIRA is part of the larger Protect Immigrant Families coalition that is taking the lead on this charge and are a great resource as well). You can also submit comment directly through the federal government’s website. Thank you to our presenters for this month’s community meeting!

-Liz and Team HFF

Domestic Violence Awareness: Recap of this month’s community meeting

We share this post as domestic violence awareness month comes to a close; however our commitment to ending domestic violence, honoring victims and standing in solidarity with survivor continues

October is domestic violence (DV) awareness month, and we were joined by local DV organization HarborCOV to discuss safety planning and challenges for survivors of DV in the current climate (e.g. immigration).

Key Points from the Discussion

  • Participants shared feeling that state agencies and institutions don’t recognize abuse that is not physically violent in the way they need to (e.g. high standards of evidence like restraining orders).
    • In the EA system, decisions are made for people in DV situations – these decisions can be fast, ill-considered and lead to a bigger mess afterwards.
    • A lot of long-term state contractors toe the line, doing things in the interest of DHCD over families.
  • Housing and a safe place to go can make a real difference in survivors’ ability to leave abusive situations.

The Meeting
Jasmine Pérez-Pimentel, Director of Programs and Services, and Uma Venkatraman of HarborCOV shared first about HarborCOV’s approach to DV as a social justice issue and working for creative solutions for survivors. They emphasized the importance of a fully supportive approach working with survivors, without ever judging.

The group brainstormed what DV is and can look like, to highlight the many ways abuse can take place outside of physical violence. Threatening self-harm, attacking self-esteem, isolation, and manipulation are examples of the many different ways abuse can look. DV happens in patterns/repeated acts, represented in the cycle of violence –  different kinds of abuse (e.g. emotional, physical violence) all can go through the cycle of violence:

Cycle-of-Violence

Image from delaware.gov

Safety Planning

  • Give power to the survivor & know their priorities for safety
  • Keep parents with children (DCF)
  • Understand shelter is often not an option for survivors
  • In EA, sometimes couples with abusers are in shelter together
    • Separate case managers for each person in a couple is something some providers are doing to build trusting relationships and to be able to really know families to be able to advocate for them.
    • Sometimes it can be difficult to tell who is the abuser and who is being abused.

Immigration

  • Two options to know about for people with different immigration statuses:
    • VOWA – self-petition option
    • UVISA – option for some victims of crimes, including DV
  • EA providers in the room were adamant about more trainings for staff around ICE and the current climate.
    • One important tip HarborCOV offered: look into options around marking certain spaces as private, there is potential to limit ICE’s access to these spaces.
  • Evictions because of DV are illegal in MA, but people with undocumented status are at risk of being exploited in this way.

Additional Resources

Support Immigrants and What We Stand For As a Nation

Homes for families opposes any and all attacks on the undocumented and their children. We believe that housing, food and healthcare are human rights. Status and citizenship should not be weaponized and used to deny children & families access to what they need to survive.

 

The Trump administration has proposed a new rule that, if it becomes law, will make it more difficult for many immigrants to obtain a green card or to enter the United States.  The proposal is a contradiction to what we are supposed to stand for as a nation, as inscribed on the statue of liberty. Instead of being a place where liberty and freedom rings true for us all, this proposal is inciting fear among immigrant families, and would undermine the health and stability of valuable members of our Commonwealth.

The new rule expands the definition of “public charge,” giving the Department of Homeland Security more means by which to reject a green card application or application for admission to the country. The proposal would make income a more heavily weighted factor, where an income level below the 125% federal poverty level is heavily weighted as a negative factor while income that is 250% of the federal poverty level is a positive factor in public charge determinations. The list of what can subject an immigrant to a public charge process would be expanded and include federally funded public housing and Section 8 housing programs (state and local housing programs are not included). The other benefits that would be subject to public charge are cash assistance programs, SNAP, non emergency Medicaid, any benefit for long term institutional care, and subsidies under Medicaid part D.

The new rule would define public charge as anyone who is likely to become primarily dependent on government in the future. Individuals would be assessed retrospectively when determining whether they are a public charge. If the proposed changes become law, people could not be assessed retrospectively until 60 days have passed from date the law takes effect.

There are a lot of pieces to this proposal. For details regarding which immigrants would be affected and the full list of which benefits would be considered when determining public charge please go to the Protecting Immigrant Families website. You can also learn more about what “public charge” is here.

The proposal would make it more difficult for legal immigrants and their families to live safe, healthy lives. The income aspect of the proposed rule disproportionately affects black and brown immigrant people from obtaining visas and green cards, making this a racist, discriminatory policy that we will not stand for.

JOIN US IN FIGHTING BACK!

HOW YOU CAN TAKE ACTION:

  1. Spread the message that nothing has changed yet and if the proposal becomes law, it will take 60 days to go into effect.
  2. Spread the message that families should stay on benefits or enroll in benefits until/if the proposal becomes law. No benefits families have used can be scrutinized under the policy until after the 60 days pass, should this become law.
  3. Fight back by submitting public comment before December 10th. Prepare to submit comments in opposition to the proposal before Dec. 10th. Unique comments that describe why the rule would be a problem from your perspective are best. MIRA is tracking and submitting comments for folks as part of the larger PIF (Protect Immigrant Families) campaign working on this, so here is a link to their google document for submitting public comment. Comments can be made anonymously.

We hope you will take part in preventing this proposal from becoming law. Every one of our voices can make a difference.

Liz and Team HFF

References