Following the Amendments on malegislature.gov

The House Committee on Ways and Means released their budget proposal on Monday, April 10th, a change from the typical Wednesday release to accommodate for Good Friday. Representatives had until 5pm on Thursday to add amendments to the $40.3Billion spending proposal.  Amendments can add additional funding and change line item language. Amendments must be filed by at least one representative, and others can add their name as co-sponsors after the amendment has been filed.  Historically, representatives co-sponsored an amendment by signing their names next to the corresponding number in a book in the clerk’s office with a quill pen.

Advocates and others would have to go to the clerk’s office at the State House and ask to see “the book” to see who had signed on. Now, legislators can use the “quill” feature on an online system that we can all track. Technology makes the process much more transparent.

The Massachusetts Legislature’s website had a bit of a face lift since last budget season. This blog post gives an overview of how to navigate the website so that you can read the various amendments, see what amendments your representative filed, and check to see if your State Representative is supporting the Budget Amendments that are important to you.

Step 1. Go to https://malegislature.gov/

Step 2. Go to the House Debate Page

Step 3. Use the Filter

When you enter your search terms, don’t forget to click the “filter” icon; use the “clear filter” feature to start a new search.  

Search Tips

  • If you don’t know who your State Representative is, click here
  • Housing programs all are listed with line item number 7004-
  • Line items we follow are: MRVP (7004-9024); Emergency Shelter (7004-0101); and HomeBASE (7004-0108)
  • Key words include: homeless, housing, voucher…

Step 4: Find your Amendment(s)

Step 5: Review the Amendment

Amendment #780 is an example of a funding amendment; striking the budget amount of $100M for MRVP and inserting $120M.

Click here to read the “technical amendment” #382 that was filed on MRVP 

Step 6: Take Action

If your Representative is signed on: say thank you!

If your Representative is not signed on: ask him/her to consider co-sponsoring.

You can call, email, use social media, visit the State House, attend an event.

Feel free to contact us with any questions or for more information.  For a sample script and a list of the amendments we are watching, click here

Stay tuned for more information; we will do our best to keep the blog updated as the budget process continues.  Representatives have up until the debates begin to co-sponsor and get educated about the amendments.

The debates begin on Monday, April 24th!

HomeBASE Update (song not included)

First and foremost, we would like to give our sincerest apologies for our recent HomeBASe Challenge blog post. 

We know that the current HomeBASE situation is no where near funny and  thought we would try to lighten the situation, but we realize that  our blog post came across as if we were making light of it…which is not our intention, ever.Thank you to the families and supporters who shared their thoughts and stories with us.  Our sense of “humor” was not on point that day, and we thank you for keeping us in check. Even though the blog post was not our finest (to say the least), the conversations that were sparked because of it were engaging, enlightening and REAL.

While we will never apologize for real, we do sincerely (from the bottom of our hearts!) apologize for the way in which we got to those conversations. However, we are glad that you feel comfortable enough to call us out when we step over the line and encourage you to continue to 1) do so and 2) share your stories and experiences with us so that we can keep bringing the real world into the policy world. 

With that said, here are the latest updates on HomeBASE and what to do as the programs sunsets and families are looking for options.

Please click HERE to view the letter that DHCD is sending to all families on HomeBASE. We encourage you to share this with other families just to be sure that everyone gets it.  

To sum it up:

Families who need clarification on when their HomeBASe Rental Assistance should contact their HomeBASe Agency that administered the assistance for more detailed information.  DHCD also recommends reaching out to stabilization case managers who can help with housing plans as benefits end by helping to determine if it is possible to stay in the current housing situation or give housing search advice.  They warn/remind that a family who does not comply with their stabilization plan could lose access to shelter, so it is important to work with case managers to revise or update the plan. 

If you are having trouble reaching your case manager or HomeBASE administering agency, please call 1-617-573-1123.

Or, as always, please call Homes for Families at 1-617-227-4188. We are happy to collect stories and situations so that we can all work together to manage the looming crisis that families across the Commonwealth are experiencing.  We hope you can forgive us, and equally so, we hope that you are managing the HomeBASE transition period as best as you can, however you can. Let us know how we can help.

More to come, as it comes.

 

Rounding HomeBASe: Transitioning Out.

There is no doubt about it, and no need to sugar coat it: Transitioning 5,600 families off of HomeBASE rental assistance is going to be a challenge. FY14 is going to be messy and demanding.  Managing the transitions will be hard work for the providers and administrating agencies. And it will be confusing to understand the complicated policies, never mind how the options play out for each individual family.  But more than anything, it will be scary and emotionally taxing on families who were sold on a three year program.  The premature termination of the program is difficult for even a policy wonk to understand, but how do we explain it to a family, to children?

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The answer? As clearly and as many times as needed.  Staff should explain what they know, and what they don’t know. They should explain where the decisions are coming from and that is confusing for them too.  Staff and families must work together to find answers and explore options. Hopefully this information, which is based on HFF’s interpretations and is not official guidance, will be helpful:

Accessing Housing:

  • Families exiting HomeBASE should have a “homelessness priority” for housing programs.  Most public housing is funded through HUD so this is hard to enforce.  Contact DHCD (617 573-1123) with questions or issues relative to housing priorities
  • Some MRVP’s will be prioritized for HomeBASE families with disabilities.  Staff should begin developing a list of the numbers of families and when their rental assistance expires.  Also note which of those families need accessible units and/or have extremely complicated situations

Flexible Cash Assistance:

  • Families whose rental assistance is expiring are eligible for Household Assistance, RAFT and potentially additional funding through the Stabilization Fund.  Guidance regarding access has not been issued by DHCD yet. But- consider how this resource may be used for different scenarios: as a step down for working families or those with higher incomes/lower rents; for relocation costs; as a subsidy until permanent housing can be secured. The intent is to transition families off the program and not to replace the rental assistance, so some long term planning should be considered with this option.

Accessing Shelter:

  • DHCD has developed protocols to avoid families having to return to the local offices to apply for shelter.  This will make the process easier and less traumatic on families, put less pressure on the already overburdened offices….and put a lot on the plates of shelter providers (and HB administrators)
  • DHCD will be sending shelters/administrators a spreadsheet each month with the names of families whose rental assistance will be expiring in the month ahead.  After working with and assessing a family’s situation and options, the shelter will note which families will need to re-enter the shelter system.  This information, along with verification forms, will be submitted to the Central DHCD office.  Placement and any needed transportation will be arranged from Central Office.  Providers will have to verify that a family made a good faith effort to comply with their stabilization plans (which seems ironic since the Commonwealth did not make a good faith effort to meet the program promises, but I digress…and simultaneously acknowledge the efforts made to minimize the impact of that decision)
  • The key to making this work is truly the relationship between the stabilization worker and the family.  If families do not know who their stabilization workers are, they can call 617-572-1123. If there are strained relationships, programs and families must make efforts to work together and/or problem solve and try to understand each other’s challenges. 

Learning and moving the system ahead:

When HomeBASE was rolled out, the then-leadership at DHCD explained that the BASE stood for Building Alternatives to Shelter.  I never heard what the E stood for, and passive aggressively always wrote HomeBASe as a result.  We joked that the E stood for Experiment. One provider thought it implied, “eeeeeeeeeee,” an exclamation of fear and nervousness.  But I later heard a HomeBASE administrator call it Building Alternatives to Shelter Entry.  Logical….but I am still going with “Experiment”

It has been and continues to be, an experiment that provided two years of housing for over 5,000 families.  The experiment forced the regional housing agencies and shelters to work together in new ways. The experiment tarnished the short term subsidy concept, tested stabilization programs, and taught lessons that many claimed to know already.

The purpose of experiments is to learn; so let’s do that.  Please use the comment box below to share questions and ideas.  Send your ideas, tools, success stories, and gripes to us. Share data and fact sheets (obvi protecting confidentiality- but what is your program collecting?) 

This is hard, but no provider is alone.  Families, you are not alone. We are all in this together.      

The Good, The Bad, and the Undone

Fiscal Year 2013 has been a rough and tough one, but not without its silver-lined moments of tried and true collaboration. Just when we think all hope is lost, a family, organization or legislator comes through and wakes up the little voice inside of our heads that say “Don’t give up now (and let’s be real, probably not ever)”. This Fiscal Year, we have come together as a community and turned that little voice in to a loud, booming, ongoing message that represents OUR VOICE.

When bombarded with families at our doors because the shelter door was not open, we brought over 9 hours of that voice to Gardner Auditorium. When we were told to “Shhh”, we banded together and chanted…really, really loud. We made phone calls, set up meetings, and wrote emails to our legislators to show them how many people are not just going to wholeheartedly fight the good fight, but not stop until it is won.

So let’s just stop and take a minute to say…..#winning! And thank you to all of the families, providers, community members, organizations and legislators who are driving the efforts to make the changes necessary to strengthen our state in FY14.

Here is an overview of the changes made by the senate who, most certainly, worked their magic.

THE GOOD….No, actually, the GREAT:
Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program: Remember when we all decided our ask for MRVP was going to be 60M? We didn’t want to go big OR go home, we knew we needed to go big TO go home. Well, the senate agreed; they proposed $57.5M and added language to add on surplus from this year….bringing us to just about 60M. This speaks volumes for our collective advocacy, years of making the case and an increased understanding of the need for more permanent affordable housing. In addition the language was changed to 50% of AMI instead of the 200% of the federal poverty level- another win.

There is also a $1.16M carve out for supportive housing for families and language mandating DHCD to develop a plan to prioritize HomeBASE families with disabilities for access to the vouchers.

Back to THE GOOD:

Emergency Assistance- Funding for EA shelter was proposed at $90.4M, a cut of $1M from the House, but still sufficient to cover 12 month contracts for shelters.

HomeBASE– HomeBASE families with disabilities will be prioritized for new MRVP’s; HB families will be able to access RAFT, DHCD may issue waiver for the 32month rule.

THE BAD:
MRVP: Just kidding, no bad, but don’t want to miss an opportunity to say: WINNING!
EA: The Shelter Contract language was not included in the senate’s budget. Despite being able to cover the 12 month contracts with the proposed $90.4M, DHCD expressed concerns about being able to uphold them unless the $1M is restored. In addition, motel funding was decreased from $9M to $6M. Sadly, there were no changes to the categorical eligibility criteria.
HomeBASE: There was no increase in funding and no reversal of the time limit reduction…womp womp.

THE UNDONE:

As the senate budget was released last week, there were a lot of emotions to control. We wanted to celebrate the MRVP win, but it didn’t quite feel right; some things still needed to be hashed out and understood, while other things needed to be amended…and fast.
We at HFF want to acknowledge, thank and hug the following champions within the senate for not wasting a minute in continuing to fight the good fight through sound, realistic and compassionate policy:

Senator Jamie Eldridge, also winner of The Big Cookie Award, is sponsoring two amendments to HomeBASE:
• Amendment 281: Subsidized Housing Preference and Rental Assistance
Co-sponsored by Messrs. Eldridge, Donnelly, Rush, Kennedy and Michael O. Moore
This amendment would restore the homelessness preference for state-funded public housing resources for families participating in the HomeBASE rental assistance program. By restoring this preference, some families may be able to transition into permanent affordable housing when their HomeBASE subsidies expire.

• Amendment 282: HomeBASE Rental Assistance
Co-Sponsored by Messrs. Eldridge, Rush, Donnelly, Kennedy and Wolf and Ms. Jehlen and Mr. Joyce and Ms. Chang-Diaz and Messrs. Brownsberger and Michael O. Moore
This amendment has been redrafted and now clarifies that families exiting the rental assistance program can access HomeBASE household assistance funds and Residential Assistance to Families in Transition (RAFT). It also adds language so that families transitioning off of HomeBASE can access shelter if they are unable to stabilize their housing through the other options. It does not and will not include extending the program to 36 months.

Senator Kenneth Donnelly is sponsoring two amendments to EA:
• Amendment 247: Family Homelessness Prevention:
Co-sponsored by Mr. Donnelly and Ms. Spilka
This amendment will build upon Senate Ways and Means’ plan to provide temporary accommodations to families experiencing homelessness. The amendment focuses on those families being turned away from the Emergency Assistance program because they have not yet stayed in a place not meant for human habitation.

• Amendment 309: Maintaining Access to Emergency Shelter for Certain Homeless Families
This amendment will require the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to presumptively place families into the Emergency Assistance (EA) family shelter program if they provide credible proof that they otherwise would be forced to stay in place not meant for human habitation and that they otherwise would meet the EA eligibility criteria.

Senator Anthony Petruccelli is sponsoring an amendment to EA:
• Amendment 240: Emergency Assistance Shelter Providers
This amendment will help stabilize the core service of shelter provision by establishing a single 12 month contract with shelter vendors, as well as provide greater transparency around motel spending. The current practice of multiyear contracts is a distraction and limits opportunities for monitoring, building
efficiencies, and is an unnecessary burden on shelter and DHCD staff. The language in this amendment regarding the contracts will be consistent with the language proposed by the House.

Senator Bruce Tarr is sponsoring an amendment to EA:
• Amendment 261: DHCD Shelters Contracts
This amendment will ensure the stability and effectiveness of shelters through requiring an initial contract from DHCD for no less than 6 months and have the funding in place.

Senator Katherine Clark is sponsoring an amendment to support Community Action Programs:
• Amendment 295: Community Action Homelessness Prevention Program
Co-sponsored by Ms. Clark and Mr. Wolf
This amendment acts to restore homelessness prevention services through the community action programs.

So again, huge thank you to the champions within the senate who understand the importance of staying tuned and staying active to work together to make the system better.

And an equally huge thank you to the families, shelters, community members and agencies that continuously strive for the good, shun the bad and don’t stop until the work is DONE.

Amendments to the FY14 SWM Budget

The Senate Ways and Means Budget was released on Wednesday and all amendments were due today.  A total of 725 amendments were filed and can be explored by clicking here. The Senate organizes the amendment by category.  The shelter and housing amendments are under ECO (for Economic Development) and others of importance to the HFF community are under EHS (Human Services) We will be posting more info and analysis on the Amendments next week.  Here are the amendments we are pushing relative to HomeBASE:

 

ECO 281

Subsidized Housing Preference and Rental Assistance

Messrs. Eldridge, Donnelly, Rush and Kennedy moved that the bill be amended, in Section 2, in item 7004-0099, by inserting after the words “any temporary or bridge subsidies provided with state or federal funds” the following additional words:-

, which shall include households receiving rental assistance under item 7004-0108 after July 1, 2013;

 

ECO 282

HomeBASE Rental Assistance

Messrs. Eldridge, Rush, Donnelly and Kennedy moved that the bill be amended, in Section 2, in item 7004-0108, by striking out the words “ provided further, that a family’s eligibility for rental assistance provided under this item shall not exceed a period of 24 successive months from the date the family first received rental assistance under this item, not including time spent in temporary accommodations; provided further, that a family that is terminated from the program because it has received 24 successive months of rental assistance shall not be able to receive assistance under this item for 12 months from the last date it received assistance through this program;” and inserting in place thereof the following language:-

provided further, that a family’s eligibility for rental assistance provided under this item may be extended for up to 36 successive months from the date the family first received rental assistance under this item, not including time spent in temporary accommodations; provided further, that the department will take all necessary steps to ensure that families reaching the end of their time limited rental assistance shall not become homeless again, including, but not limited to: (1) extending rental assistance from 24 to 36 months; (2) transitioning families to long-term subsidized housing, including but not limited to assistance given through housing authorities, the federal Housing Choice Voucher program, or rental assistance under item 7004-9024; and/or (3) providing families with assistance through short-term household assistance and assistance under item 7004-9316; provided further, that, notwithstanding any general or special law or rule or regulation to the contrary, the department shall ensure that any such family who does become homeless again shall be provided access to emergency shelter under item 7004-0101 so long as such family meets the requirements of the family’s housing stabilization plan and all other options of housing assistance have been exhausted; provided further, that on the first day of each month beginning on September 1, 2013, the department shall provide a report to the chairs of the house and senate committees on ways and means and of the joint committees on housing and children, families, and persons with disabilities detailing how many families reached the end of the 24 month period in the preceding month and each family’s current housing status, including what additional forms of assistance are being provided to ensure that the family does not become homeless again;

And further amended by inserting at the end thereof the following language:-

, the number of households transitioned into federal funded public housing or rental assistance, the number of households transitioned to item 7004-9024, the number of households that exited the program into alternative housing, the number of households exiting the program and unaccounted for; provided further, that the report shall include, the number of families served who required further assistance at a later date, the type of assistance later provided, and the current housing stability of each family who received assistance within the prior 12 months, including transitional housing or short-term housing assistance, and any obstacles encountered with the administration of this program.

Lots of thanks to Chairman Eldridge and the other sponsors for their leadership and support on this issue!

Yeah, We’re Gonna Need Everyone To Work Some Magic: Updates and Next Steps

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities”

-Albus Dumbledore 

Inspired by a follower on Twitter, this post will be Harry Potter themed, in hopes of conjuring up support for our champions in the legislature to work their magic on amendments to the house budget.

Looking for an overview of the budget in relation to family homelessness?

Presto!:

HWM allocated 106.5M to EA, which is consistent with the Governor’s proposal and adequate to cover current expenditures, however there were no changes to the FY13 categorical eligibility regulations. The transferability between the EA line item and motel line items is eliminated, meaning that DHCD cannot borrow money from EA to pay for motels.  As for shelters, no more than $91,476,700 will be expended to establish a single contract per service provider for the entirety of FY 14, to include all contracted and supportive program expenses. The HWM budget proposal did not include language that would require DHCD to shelter families who are otherwise eligible and are at imminent risk of staying in places not meant for human habitation.

As for HomeBASE, the 32 week time limit to access the program was eliminated, although the three year language was not restored. Another change was in eliminating the 12 month bar which will allow families to access household assistance if the third year is not honored.

MRVP, otherwise known as the HFF horcrux, was funded at 46.5M, consistent with the Governor’s proposal.  While this number is an increase from FY 13’s 42,5M, the number of vouchers distributed the FY will require the magical number of 46.5M to annualize. SO- although there is an increase in funding, it will NOT result in an increase of vouchers- quite the Legerdemain.   The decrease in motel numbers is largely attributed to the increase in MRVPs to families, so if the Administration wants to actualize this:

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without additional MRVP vouchers, they are going to have to strategize faster than you can say  “Evanesco”!, or at least gain access to the Room of Requirement within the next year.

Next Steps:

We have identified the following state representatives as a Patronus for the people, and we urge you to use the Expectro Patronum spell to encourage your own representatives to sign on to their amendments:

  • Emergency Assistance (line item 7004-0101)

Representative Kay Khan will file an amendment requiring DHCD to shelter families who are otherwise eligible to EA and who are at imminent risk of staying in places not fit for human habitation.

  • Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (line item 7004-9024)

Representative Paul Donato will file an amendment to increase funding for MRVP to $50 million.

Representative Gloria Fox will file an amendment to increase funding for MRVP to $60 million.

Representative Linda Campbell will file an amendment to restore the administrative fee to its current level.

  • HomeBASE (line item 7004-0108)

Representative Byron Rushing will be filing an amendment that would allow access to HomeBASE for the originally designed 3 years, allow EA access to families who are unable to maintain their market rate placements, allow access to RAFT and other prevention programs and would allow families enrolled in HomeBASE to maintain a homeless priority for state-funded public housing.

Please click here to find your representative, then call or email them to ask them to look into the Mirror of Erised and support amendments being filed on behalf of the programs that we advocate for.

Simply provide the program name and line item, the purpose of the amendment and the name of the representative who is the lead sponsor. Don’t forget to use the magic word (in this case, the magic word is please).

Unfortunately, we are mere muggles who cannot fight boggarts with spells like “Alohomora” or “Budget, engorgio!” and we cannot look to Professor Trelawney for Divination 101 to foresee the future for families across Massachusetts. The magic we use to fight for vulnerable families throughout the Commonwealth must be pure and the charms must be cast now until the end of the budget debates in order to truly make a difference.

( I know, not Dumbledore, and not even the same actor (Thanks to Gabi, our board co-chair, for that clarification)  But still…too good to pass up.)

Let Them Eat Cake (or Statewide EA Provider Meeting Overview)

Last week was a busy one in the family homelessness world.  Monday was the W. MA Emergency Assistance Regulation Hearing; Thursday was the Boston Hearing; and Friday DHCD hosted a statewide meeting with EA providers.  There was no mention of the hearings or next steps regarding eligibility at the meeting….but the Lt. Governor made an appearance to thank providers for their work and recognize the service of Bob Pulster; the Undersecretary addressed the crowd and also recognized Bob’s leadership in transitioning a system; and Bob gave his final address to the shelter provider community.

 A copy of the slides can be viewed and downloaded by clicking here.

The agenda included some data highlights regarding the EA caseload (3,775), length of stay (average 7 months), and re-entries into the system (or more than one episode = 14.9% over a 5 year period); HomeBASE Household Assistance utilization- both data and case examples and some discussion; updates on the MRVP front (which for some reason just put the song Rawhide in my head which is totally inappropriate for two reasons- one- we are talking about people not cattle…and two there are certainly not enough vouchers to feel like a cattle drive but work with me here …”Move ‘em out; Lease ‘em up…Lease ‘em up move ‘em out”…and just don’t think too deeply about it or be offended, ok?) Tim Yaeker reviewed BHA’s Leading the Way Home program and stabilization services; there was an ASSIST update and encouragement to attend the Early Learning Challenge Grant Hearings.

Click here for HFF’s notes from the meeting

The ASSIST info here

The Agency Goals here

Oh, and they also had a big sheet cake that said, “Thank you Bob” (white frosting, blue letters and the cake was part chocolate and part white.  It was good.)

LH