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!

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We raised #OurVoice for more housing!

We gave testimony in front of the Joint Committee on Housing.  Here is what we said:

September 29, 2015

Good morning and thank you Chairwoman Dorcena-Forry and Chairman Honan and members of the Committee.  My name is Libby Hayes, executive director of Homes for Families.   I am here today to testify in support of House Bill 1111: An Act Relative to Housing Production sponsored by Chairman Honan.

First I would like to thank the Chairman, this committee and the legislature for your commitment to restoring the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program and for maintaining the safety net for families that are victims of our housing market’s impossibilities.  MRVP is one of the most critical tools to address the housing affordability crisis in the Commonwealth.  However, MRVP alone cannot solve it.  We simply do not have enough units to house the people of the Commonwealth.  This bill aims to change that.

As the Pope so clearly articulated last week, “We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing,” 

Yet, here we are –  with:

We recently released a report synthesizing information from surveys taken by family shelter providers.  The number one barrier to re identified was the lack of affordable housing. Each summer Homes for Families hosts an event which convenes families from shelters and motels from across the state, to discuss solutions to homelessness. This year, like each year before, participant recognize housing as the number one solution.

According to Enterprise Community Partners and Harvard’s Joint Center on Housing Studies. The number of U.S. households that spend at least half their income on rent—the “severely cost-burdened,”—could increase 25 percent over the next decade.  Last week, the Boston Foundation’s 2015 indicator’s report shared that more than 85 percent of the positions added to the Boston economy since 2009 pay less than $38,000 a year – a big gap from the over $60,000 per year needed for a family to be housing and economically stable.

Rent continues to outpace wages at a rapid rate.  Rent increases are also outpacing voucher limits.  We often hear legislators say that their number one constituent call is related to housing.  In my office, we have had an increase in calls from families with vouchers in hand that cannot find an apartment that meets the qualifications. 

Here is our reality in the Commonwealth:  right now we have a housing crisis caused by a lack of housing stock and a vast gap between wages and rent.  Recent reports show that dynamics will only get worse. As a result, our homelessness crisis will only increase.  The housing stability forecast for the lowest income families – and children – in the Commonwealth is grim.

But there is good news – we know the path we are on, we are aware of the dynamics at play, and we have the collective ability to turn towards solutions.  Housing Solutions.  We know housing construction has a multiplier effect on the economy.  We know stable housing leads to better health outcomes, and leads families on a path to economic mobility. And we know that there is resistance to building and multifamily housing….but there is also resistance to motels.

Housing is the foundation. – for families, for stability, and for a thriving Commonwealth – and to ending our family homelessness crisis.  We need the physical housing structures – and for families to have either the subsidies and/or wages to achieve housing stability.  Massachusetts has a choice – to continue to manage the crisis or to start solving the dynamics that have caused it. This bill is the foundation for solution. This bill provides the tools to build the housing we need.

We agree with Pope Francis, “We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing,” and hope this committee reports favorably on the Act Relative to Housing Production.

LH

#BackToSchool Homework Assignment: Think about the 19,515 students that were identified as homeless last school year

Despite the summer weather, we can feel the buzz of the Commonwealth gearing up for another year – parents buying school supplies; teachers setting up classrooms; first day of school pictures being posted on facebook; figuring out bus schedules and stops, carpools, riding the T, and safest walking routes; uniforms, clothes and shoes; fresh haircuts; first day jitters; and new friends, new routines, new teachers.

But as this headline recently pointed out, thousands of children are “shouldering more than backpacks.”  Last academic year the Massachusetts Department of Education identified 19,515 children who were shouldering homelessness along with the homework in their backpacks. Here is the breakdown by grade:

201415SchoolYear

 

This trend, unfortunately, is not getting better.  As the graph below shows, we have seen a steady increase of students identified as homeless in recent years.

studentsperyear

Source: MA DOE

Digression

This data does not include college students, which in MA, is something we must also consider.  Not only because of the number of colleges, but also the job market and competition that results from both. The National Alliance to End Homelessness recently put out a brief and the Chronicle of Higher Education highlighted one mom shouldering college and homelessness.

 

Back to the subject at hand: the 19,515 school aged students who were homeless last year and the potential 20,000 that may face homelessness this year.  Here is a list of links, information and thoughts:

  1. Children who are homeless have special right per the McKinney-Vento Homelessness Act of 1987 
  2. The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty put together this FAQ on the act. It is an oldie and wonky, but the facts remain the same.
  3. Here is a link to the Massachusetts Department of Education’s page regarding McKinney-Vento,   complete with contact lists, regulations, data, power points and more
  4. Of note, there has been one significant clarification made this school year: the US Department of Education only considers a student’s school of origin rather than their district of origin relative to the enforcement of the McKinney-Vento law. Massachusetts officials previously interpreted the law to mean the district (IE town or school system) of origin but the Feds have issued guidance that MA officials can only enforce that children can remain in their physical school of origin if they are forced to move out of their community by homelessness.  In other words, if a child has been promoted from elementary school to middle school, s/he does not have a school of origin and must begin the new school year in the town where the student resides, not where they lived prior to becoming homeless. Same goes for students graduating from middle school to high school who may be in a shelter or motel in a new community.  All other protections regarding enrollment remain.  A school can allow the student to attend school in the district of origin, but cannot be reimbursed for transportation per the US Dept of Education under the McKinney-Vento Law. 
  5. This series and video, Trying to Live, Trying to Learn is from last year and from Denver, but it is a great piece of journalism and is about the same challenges we face in Massachusetts.
  6. Homes for Families (on our own and in partnership with Project Hope) has done trainings for teachers, corps members, teaching students and visited with students in elementary and high school classrooms. We are always up for talking about homeless, awareness and solutions. Contact us if you are interested in learning more.
  7. Massachusetts ranks as the best state in America for our education system. We have an obligation to educate children who are facing homelessness, to provide supports and to track outcomes.
  8. We also have an obligation to advocate for solutions; 19,515 is a number that is unacceptable. Not because of the cost of transporting children. It is simply unjust and wrong.  In a state as wealthy as ours, as compassionate as ours, and as smart as ours – we must work together to #BendTheTrend.  We can not watch the number continue to increase.
  9. If we are serious about ending homelessness, as a society, we must start with the children

Most lists end at number 10, not 9  But final thoughts are being left to you.  What should be added?

 

LH

Visioning Day: Raising the Stakes

Homes for Families is excited to announce Visioning Day 2015!

SavetheDateFINAL


We will be sharing more information as it comes, and encourage you to share this save the date.

But wait- there’s more!

 In efforts to ensure that all families have the opportunity to raise their voice to end family homelessness, Jane Banks, of the Center for Human Development, has put forth a challenge to all shelter providers in Massachusetts! Read her email below for details:

Hi everyone!

Visioning Day is just around the corner!

As some of you already know, I have a healthy competitive spirit and love a good challenge.

Last year the western region rented two buses to ensure we had as many families that wanted to attend Visioning Day be able to attend. Three of the four providers had families and staff ride together on the buses.

IT WAS FANTASTIC!

This year I would like to set the bar much higher and challenge all regions to rent 1 bus or 10 buses (or a small van) and BRING THE FAMILIES to the table!

It really isn’t that expensive and I’m pretty sure with all the talented leadership out there, you can figure out how to plan, pay, and motivate the families to participate and, of course get your staff on the buses as well!

We would hate to out perform you all again this year so… Pony up folks… Game on. Let’s see if we can pack the room with families on Visioning Day!!

It would be fabulous for providers from across the entire state to come together with the families we serve as a united force…motel families too!

No pressure! No excuses!!! We can do this!!!! We are of course, the EA Providers! 

🙂

As always, Jane makes a great point (with a smile!). EA providers prove every day that they can overcome incredible feats and odds to support support families overcoming homelessness–and this is one more way to support them. We encourage you to coordinate transportation for staff and families. Homes for Families relies on the voices at Visioning Day to guide our efforts, so it is critical that those voices are represented and heard.

To encourage this friendly competition, we created a map with the (5) distinct regions you will be competing with and against.

Map FINAL

Feel free to:

  • Contact us with any questions or confusion regarding the contest regions and rules
  • Take a refresher course on Visioning Day by reading this blog post and last year’s report
  • Work together to make a plan on how to show regional solidarity at the event
  • Go back up to Jane’s email and click the Pony Up link. If you have ever clicked on one of our links, you’ll know it is worth it!
  • Consider partnering with us in sponsoring the day. We will be reaching out to individual organizations with opportunities for sponsorship, but feel free to check out and share our Go Fund Me page!

Be on the lookout for more information, we will share the details of the day and the registration page soon!

Thanks for all you do to support families across MA, and for all you do to support HFF!

House Debate Week: You can’t always get what you want, but….

As our prior blog post illustrates, we wanted a lot from the House budget debates relative to housing:

We supported our amendment sponsors the best we could from outside of the ropes in front of the House Chambers (no matter how far the ropes are expanded!).  We gave them information and talking points, educated and encouraged other legislators to join them in the closed door discussions, and relied on you- our HFF community- to rally your legislators.

Unfortunately, none of our priority amendments for housing were passed. But as the Rolling Stones say, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”.

Chart with adopted

But thankfully, the House Budget proposes things that we need:

  • A significant increase to the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program
  • A rejection of the Governor’s proposal to further restrict shelter eligibility
  • More funding for prevention, diversion and re-housing through RAFT and HomeBASE
  • And an increased cap to the HomeBASE benefit

For more details on the House budget relative to HOUSING, check out CHAPA’s summary.

The House Budget proposes the Emergency Assistance Line item be funded at $155,058,948, which is about a $15M increase from the appropriated amount for this fiscal year and about $40M less than the total spending on shelters and motels in FY15 including supplemental funding.  Earmarks were added to the line item for playspaces and to provide additional services to families in certain motels. The line item received a bump of $180,000 to cover the cost of those additions.

The House Budget provides a strong proposal for addressing the family homelessness crisis in fiscal year 2016, and will help us to focus on maintaining and fine tuning the line items in the Senate.

Do you want to stay involved and take more action? No problem, here are a few ways:

1. We invite you to listen to this song to remind you of our MRVP ask.  We hope it inspires you to call your Senator and remind them of the need for HOUSING SOLUTIONS TO THE HOMELESSNESS CRISIS! We are very pleased with the $90.1M proposed by the House, but more $ = more vouchers! #MRVP100!

2. Stay tuned for more information about the House Budget relative to our other priority areas and for action you can take to address the shelter and HomeBASE access issues in the Senate.

3. You can also say thank you to:

  • Speaker DeLeo; Chairman Dempsey of Ways and Means; Chairman Honan of the Housing Committee; and Assistant Majority Leader Byron Rushing with a simple call or email saying “Thank you for the protections and investments for homeless families in the House Budget”
  • Representative Marjorie Decker of Cambridge for sponsoring and fighting for important amendments related to shelter, HomeBASE, welfare benefits, and EITC….and for giving an impassioned speech about her own history in public housing, the role of Government and the need for housing for all families of the Commonwealth
  • Representative Barber and Representative Gregoire for sponsoring the HomeBASE access and EA reporting amendments, respectively
  • and your representative if they signed on to the amendments that you care about

Finally, we leave you with this- a video taken at the State House.  No filming is allowed from the House Gallery where we watch the debates and the votes are taken, but thankfully this video was made of the evacuation of the State House on Wednesday morning to give you a sense of the fun and energy that is House Debate Week!

video credit: Mike Deehan from MASSter List

Thank you for all YOU do to end homelessness!

Onward….

LH

Getting Wonky With It: Information for next week’s budget debates

On April 15th, the House Committee on Ways and Means released their budget proposal.  You can read our analysis here, Mass Law Reform’s analysis on programs impacting families with low incomes here, and Mass Budget and Policy Center’s full analysis here.

Representatives filed 1,096 amendments to the proposal.  All of the amendments are posted online and can be viewed here.  Using the on-line mass.gov tool, you can search for particular amendments by key word, line item number, and amendment number and/or legislator name. If you click on the amendment number, you will be able to see the text of the amendment, as well as the names of the legislators that have signed on in support.

The chart below includes amendments that are relative to homelessness.  We included all amendments that are being filed to our priority line items, issues that correspond to our Visioning Day recommendations, amendments that are priorities of our partner organizations, earmarks, and amendments that would have a negative impact on the people experiencing housing and economic instability, so that you know what is at stake in the debates.

Amendment Chart Take 2

Click the picture to enlarge 

Next week, the House of Representatives will debate the amendments in order to finalize the FY 16 House Budget.  Much of this process is done behind closed doors in “caucus meetings”, or meetings pertaining to a particular topic, such as housing.  Legislators will have an opportunity to speak for or against a specific amendment, and then the Ways and Means committee will determine which amendments will get considered as part of a broad “consolidated” amendment relative to each topic.  Then legislators will vote on the consolidated amendment.  In other words, not every amendment will get voted on.  This is why it is so important for you to advocate and let your representative know what amendments are important to you – and to addressing our family homelessness crisis.  We need Legislators to show their support through co-sponsoring, but also for going to the caucus meetings and speaking up for the important issues. They need you to help educate them so that they can be active participants.

Click here to find out who your Representative is and their contact information.

 

TeamHFF

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