In May We Celebrate Mother Figures and Recognize Mental Health

At our May Community Meeting, Homes for Families honored mother figures and recognized the layered health challenges faced by the many mother-led families within the EA system. Mental and emotional health and well being is an important aspect of health for any mother whether in shelter or not. Being a mom, and a new mom especially, can be utterly exhausting and is a lot of work. This, coupled with even the most supportive of shelter settings, is going to have its added challenges.

It’s not surprising that the majority of parents within EA say that their stress level increased since entering EA shelter (see image below). For a link to the full report that this data point came from click here.

Our network of programs, families and allies all want families and moms to succeed. We want to create the supports mothers need to be emotionally and physically well. EA shelters provide an incredibly vital service and staff and families work hard every day to foster stability and opportunity. However, practices and policies can get in the way. Participants at community meeting named a number of punitive and unhelpful practices that hinder rather than facilitate moms’ success. Lack of flexibility around: chores where a pregnant woman can be required to mop floors in the late evening; not being able to leave your children unattended; and lack of access to transportation to get to and from appointments, for the parent, are just some examples.

There is opportunity to assess how policies and practices can be implemented through a more trauma informed and whole-family lens and for seeing each child’s success as inextricably tied to their primary caretaker’s ability to get their emotional, mental and physical needs met. Given that families experiencing homelessness are disproportionately people of color, we must continue to acknowledge and dismantle structures that systematically disadvantage people of color, women, and families with low incomes. As one Community Meeting participant said: “If middle class white people were subjected to this [unreasonable policies], they would have changed a long time ago.”

If you want to take action right now towards improving the policies that impact families in shelter, check out our most recent state budget-related blog post!

At Community Meeting, we began with notes to our mother-figures and so we will end here with some of those beautiful messages:

Liz Peck

Team HFF

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

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

Feb 26th

Because of February SNAP early issuance, March SNAP benefits are being issued in the first few days of March to shorten the time between when clients get benefits. There is full funding available for March SNAP benefits. March SNAP benefits will be made available between March 1 – March 4 for most SNAP clients. Eligible clients who do not receive benefits on the modified issuance dates will receive them on their normal cyclical date or upon approval. Starting in April, benefits will be issued on the normal monthly issuance schedule.  SNAP rules and eligibility have not changed. For more information, visit www.mass.gov/DTA.

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)

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