Some context and charts around the Governor’s Proposal For Family Shelter in FY17

On January 27th, Governor Baker released his recommendations for the state’s operating budget as a bill to the House of Representatives.  This year, his budget proposal is referred to as the House 2 Budget.  This is the Governor’s opportunity to recommend spending levels and any changes to the language or policies directing how the funding should be spent and the programs run.

The chart below highlights a few of the key line items relative to housing and homelessness.  The remainder of this post will specifically focus on the Emergency Assistance, or family shelter, line item, which is [affectionately] known as line item 7004-0101 in the State Budget.

H2HousingLinesFY17

No changes were recommended relative to shelter eligibility or other program functioning.  However, the proposal removed all oversight and reporting language [and earmarks].  This is the language that mandates the Legislature have 60 day advance notice of regulatory changes, and that charges the Department on Housing and Community Development (DHCD) with basic data reporting requirements [like monthly and quarterly reports].  It seems to be commonplace for the Administration to remove this language [and the Legislature to put it back in].

As the chart indicates, the Governor has recommended $191, 893,513 for the Emergency Assistance Program.  This program funds over 3,500 shelter units; as well as the corresponding staff, service and operating costs; overflow capacity in motel rooms; additional diversion dollars; and some earmarked funding for plays spaces, transportation and food pilots, and technical assistance from Homes for Families. While this funding [$191M] is considerably higher than the $154M Governor Baker recommended last year – or the $155M the Legislature allocated in their final budget – it is less than the $197.9 that is projected to be spent this fiscal year.

Each year, since the state has had to rely on motels to meet the need for shelter, a supplemental budget has been required as the total dollar amount needed for motels is somewhat of a moving target.  Typically, 7004-0101 is underfunded from the start, much like the snow and ice line item, and additional funding is requested once actual demand and dollar amounts are determined.  Last week, the Governor filed a Supplemental Budget proposal with the Legislature; included was $41M for EA.

There is some logic to under-funding EA.  The goal is always to get out of motels – to increase prevention, to increase housing, to use short term resources, for the rent wage gap and other realities of inequality to disappear on the basis of good intentions and incremental policy changes – so why invest upfront? The graphic below, a newly updated version from last year, provides an answer:

TimeLineFY16

Click Picture to Enlarge

Not adequately funding EA from the start causes complications in a system that is constantly adapting to policy changes and new initiatives. Simply put, it is inefficient. It places an unnecessary administrative burden on shelter providers and staff at the Department of Housing and Community Development, and on the Legislature who have to field panicked calls from Homes for Families and shelter providers as they process the supplemental budget, which may include complicated issues that require more time than the shelter contracts have.

So, what do you think? Is this the year that we try stability for a system that is charged with supporting families to achieve housing stability?

Here is an idea – how about the Legislature re-inserts the advanced notice language, adds some more data and reporting language to better track the use of the funds and functioning of the program, and provides adequate funding? That way, the shelter providers can have 12 month contracts and the Legislature can keep a close eye on the program. The motel number is at its lowest since 2010.  The overall caseload is also down. These accomplishments could not have been made without shelter providers’ hard work to expand programs and implement and adapt to new policies and programs. So, hey, if there is money left over at the end of the year, the state can invest it in HOUSING!

LH

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Help Stop the Governor’s Proposal to Restrict Access to Shelter and Cut MRVP

While many have taken to the beach or a lake to cool off from this week’s summer heat, folks on Beacon Hill are still hard at work, as they attempt to close out the state’s FY2015 budget and finalize the FY2016 budget. You might be scratching your head and thinking, “hey wait, FY2015 ended June 30th and Governor Baker signed the FY2016 budget into law, soooooo… what’s this all about?

Actually, you’d be right. Both of those have come and gone, yet there remains some open business for our elected officials to handle before they break out of official session on July 31st. Here are the deets:

MRVP and the FY2016 Budget

8Overrides

 

screen shot from https://malegislature.gov/Budget/Process

The final FY2016 Conference Committee budget voted on by the MA Legislature funded the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program at $90.9 million, which would allow for approximately 800 new MRVP vouchers. Unfortunately, Governor Baker vetoed $3 million from the line item which would result in the loss of 300 of these vouchers. As you know, we cannot afford to forfeit even one voucher to budget cuts.

Please take a moment to contact both your State Representative and State Senator to ask that they override the MRVP veto. If you are uncertain how to contact your elected officials, click here. Below is a script for you to use:

“Hi. My name is ________________, and I live/work in __________________. I am calling to ask my representative/senator to work to override Governor Patrick’s veto of $3 million to MRVP and restore funding to $90.9 million for FY2016.

 

I support MRVP because: ___________________________________________________________.”

 

EA and the FY2015 Supplemental Budget

In his supplemental budget proposal to close out the FY2015 budget, Governor Baker inserts language that would change the regulations that determine access to Emergency Assistance, or family shelter in the 2016 fiscal year.     If supported by the legislature, families who are staying in units  unfit for human habitation and those in irregular housing situations would no longer be eligible for shelter.

Both the House and Senate rejected the governor’s attempt to bring these same restrictions through the state budget process. We are in communication with Legislative leadership to ensure that the state does not implement further restrictions by keeping this harmful language out of the final version of the supplemental budget. In the meantime, you can help by calling the governor’s office at 617.725.4005 and asking that he remove this harmful language from his proposal. Here is a sample script you can use:

“Hi. My name is _______________ , and I live/work in ________________ . I am calling to ask that Governor Baker reconsider Section 30 his supplemental budget proposal to further restrict access to homeless families applying for shelter. Please ask him to remove the language that would turn away children staying in places unfit for human habitation and in irregular housing situations from shelter in his FY2015 supplemental budget.

 

This issue matters to me because: _________________________________________________.”

Whether you are a family who is experiencing homelessness, have struggled to obtain shelter, a provider working with families in these situations or an otherwise concerned stakeholder, please share your concerns with Governor Baker. It is our voice that needs to be heard!!

DS

Taking Aim at Ending Family Homelessness in Massachusetts 

Viewpoints from Around the State: Taking Aim at Ending Family Homelessness in Massachusetts 

by Libby Hayes, featured in the Provider, a monthly newsletter from the Provider’s Council that highlights some of the biggest issues in the human services sector.

According to the 2014 report, America’s Youngest Outcasts, the number of homeless children increased by 8 percent nationally from 2012 to 2013; there were increases in the number of homeless children in 31 states and the District of Columbia. The report also states that 1 in 30 children in America are without a home.

Here in Massachusetts, the Department of Education identified 15,812 homeless students last year. Data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development shows a 94 percent increase in the number homeless families in the Commonwealth from 2007-2014. The state’s Emergency Assistance (EA) program is currently providing shelter to approximately 4,460 families each night. We were battling the issue of homelessness before the recession hit. That issue is now an epidemic. An epidemic that can – and must – be solved.

Despite the daunting statistics above, the number of families in motels has been reduced from a high of 2,200 families in December of 2013, to fewer than 1,400 in March of 2015. This reduction is a result of a combination of efforts, including an expansion of the number of family shelter units. The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and the EA shelter providers have worked to implement more efficient and specialized program models such as co-sheltering, a shelter for single fathers and enhanced services for domestic violence and substance abuse.

 Next, a pilot program was launched in July of 2014, placing EA providers in the five busiest shelter intake offices. The providers meet individually with eligible families, to explore resources and opportunities outside of the shelter system. According to DHCD data, the statewide rate of families “diverted” from shelter in January 2015 was 21 percent, a significant increase from the 5 percent diversion rate in FY ’14. At the same time, DHCD reports the total number of exits from the EA system has increased from a year-to-date total of 2,955 in January of 2014 to 3,696 year-to-date total in January of 2015.

The HomeBASE program has been a critical resource in these achievements. Investments in the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program, Leading the Way Home Vouchers through the Boston Housing Authority, access to private developments through the New Lease Program, and augmented staffing in motels have all contributed the increase in the number of families exiting the shelter system. Building on these efforts will further reduce the reliance on motels and better support families to overcome homelessness.

The recently released On Solid Ground report outlines the economic context of the family homelessness epidemic – specifically exploring the issues of wage stagnation, a decline in housing production, disinvestments in family supports and fragmented public policies and programs. On Solid Ground calls for more coordination and accountability across all state agencies to better align policies and maximize resources and effectiveness.

Historically, homelessness has been looked at in one of two ways: through a human service lens or through a housing lens. We now recognize that we must look at housing as the foundation, and at human services, child care, education, labor and workforce, and health care as the materials needed to construct a future without homelessness. Resources are needed, and coordinating a holistic response requires leadership and vigilant tracking of data to evaluate progress.

Governor Baker has made family homelessness a priority issue for his administration. His FY ’16 budget proposal includes $20 million for a new End Family Homelessness Reserve Fund to be administered by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), but has also proposed further restrictions to shelter eligibility. Further restrictions are simply not tenable; already about half of the families that apply for shelter are determined ineligible; more than 600 families entered the shelter system in FY ’14 after staying in places not meant for human habitation. These are children. Blanket categorizing and excluding subpopulations of homeless families has never proven successful in the Commonwealth’s 30-year battle against family homelessness, especially compared to successful prevention and diversion models.

 Thoughtful distribution of the Reserve Fund will be needed to avoid making the system more convoluted and confusing to families in crisis. While flexible funding has proven to be a useful tool to manage homelessness more cost effectively, it cannot solve an epidemic caused by larger systemic issues: a shortage of affordable housing and wage stagnation at our lowest income levels. But a focus on housing, children and providing the necessary opportunities and resources will do more than manage homelessness – it will end it.

-Libby Hayes, Executive Director of Homes for Families

Providers Council