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!

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

The Time Has Come Today…(so what will happen with EA?)

The Time Has Come Today…

..when the 7 day shelter contract extension, from the 21 day contract extension, from the 7 month contract will expire.  This article from the State House News, and heard/posted on public radio, makes is clear that everyone knows we have a serious timing issue:

When Gov. Charlie Baker urged the Legislature to act quickly on his midyear spending bill filed late last month, he likely had this very situation in mind, cautioning that there were agencies and programs with “time-sensitive” funding needs demanding action before the end of March.

 “We need the money that’s in the supp. From our perspective this is a timing issue. The shelters are not going to close. No families are in danger and we’re working diligently with the Legislature to get the money they need,” said Paul McMorrow, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.

House budget leaders said Thursday they were aware of “funding timelines” for the emergency assistance family shelter program, but could not comment on whether they would consider separating the shelter funding from the budget bill to get it approved faster.

It seems like an appropriate time, to share Homes for Families’ time lines illustrating the chaotic contract lengths for family shelters:

Here is what this year is looking like so far:

fy15sheltercontract

And here is how this year fits in with recent years:

timeLineEAfy15

So, what impact does this have on shelter programs you ask?

  • Well, for starters, right now providers can’t be paid. On April 1st, rent will due to landlords that lease apartments and buildings that are used as shelter units
  • When providers can’t be paid, they may have to rely on lines of credit, which they will have to pay back with interest
  • It is extremely burdensome on finance staff to manage funds when programs are not being reimbursed, and to have to amend budgets and do unnecessary paperwork
  • Last minute contract signing is a distraction and can be complicated, especially if shelters are dealing with crises, or if authorized signers are out of the office
  • DHCD contract managers have to manage the signing, resigning, and processing, when they are also responsible for monitoring programs and other assistance to providers
  • Legislators have to deal with the sudden blitz of calls from panicked advocates and shelter providers
  • Feel free to leave a comment about the other impacts that short term contracts have on you and your programs

We are hoping, and asking, that the EA supplemental funding get separated and passed independently.  This will allow the contracts to get issued, and time for the Conference Committee the time to thoughtfully work out the other compromises between the Senate and House Bills.

We have an opportunity to stop this insanity in FY16.  We think it is about time.

LH