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!

Get Ready, Get Set, Go Advocate!!

Summary of Key Line Items and Amendments Relative to Housing and Homelessness

Yesterday, the House Committee on Ways and Means released their FY2017 Budget Proposal. Representatives have until mid-day tomorrow, Friday 4/15, to file amendments.

Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP, line item 7004-9024)

The HWM FY2017 budget proposal funds MRVP at $100 million, which includes carry over funding unspent in FY2016.  However, this funding level is not sufficient to cover the cost of new vouchers and needed program fixes.

Amendment #52 filed by Representative Paul Donato: increases funding for MRVP to $120 million. To co-sponsor this amendment, representatives or the their staff can sign on using the LAWS system.

Amendment to be filed by Representative Sean Garballey: aligns MRVP mobile voucher rent cap with current HUD FMRs, allows for a data management system and requires DHCD to begin issuing new vouchers. To co-sponsor this amendment, representatives, or their staff, should contact John Rosenberry in Rep. Garballey’s office.  

 

Emergency Assistance (EA, family shelter, line item 7004-0101)

The HWM FY2017 budget proposal funded EA at $155.1 million and made no changes to eligibility for the program.

Amendment to be filed by Representative Marjorie Decker: allows access to shelter for families who are at imminent risk of staying places not meant for human habitation.  To co-sponsor this amendment, representatives, or their staff, should contact Tim Mahoney in Rep. Decker’s office.

Amendment to be filed by Representative Danielle Gregoire: requires DHCD to report certain data tracking points to the Legislature, including basic demographics of families experiencing homelessness and reasons that families are denied access to shelter. To co-sponsor this amendment, representatives, or their staff, should contact Jennifer Mercadante in Rep. Gregoire’s office

Amendment #66 filed by Representative Adrian Madaro: continues funding for Homes for Families to provide technical assistance. To co-sponsor this amendment, representatives or the their staff can sign on using the LAWS system.

HomeBASE (line item 7004-0108)

The HWM FY2017 budget proposal funds HomeBASE at $31.9 million, a slight increase over current funding. It also opens access to a limited amount of funding to families experiencing homelessness who are sheltered in domestic violence or treatment facilities.

Amendment to be filed by Representative Christine Barber: This amendment builds off of the pilot program proposed in the budget to make HomeBASE available to income-eligible families in domestic violence and substance abuse programs. The amendment also allows families to renew HomeBASE in order to avoid evictions, loss of housing stability, or the need to re-enter shelter, and the amendment continues forward funding of the program to the nonprofit organizations that administer HomeBASE on behalf of the state. To co-sponsor this amendment, representatives or the their staff can sign on using the LAWS system.

 

Other Amendments:

Earned Income Tax Credit Amendments Sponsored By Representative Decker

  • To increase the Massachusetts Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) from 23% to 50% of the federal credit
  • To allow victims of DV to be eligible for the credit and direct the Department of Revenue to increase EITC outreach.

To co-sponsor this amendment, representatives or their staff should contact Tim Mahoney in Representative Decker’s office

Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) Work Study Amendment sponsored by Representative Sannicandro
This amendment provides $2.35 million to fund paid work study for families on TAFDC at community colleges and to pay for staff to help these students succeed in college.

To cosponsor this amendment, representatives or their staff can contact Becca Miller at Rebecca.Miller@mahouse.gov or 722-2013 by noon on Friday

Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund (DWD 7002-1074) Amendment sponsored by Representative Wagner
This amendment to provide $4 million to support sector orientated workforce training that reflects best practices in workforce development including collaborations between employers, education programs and community based organizations.

To cosponsor this amendment, representatives or their staff can contact Rory O’Hanlon at Rory.O’Hanlon@mahouse.gov or 722-2370

TAFDC Job Search Amendment sponsored by Representative Cabral               

This amendment requires proof of job search 60 days from application in order to be eligible for benefits.

To cosponsor amendment, representatives or their staff can contact Al Medeiros at Alves.Medeiros@mahouse.gov or 722-2017

Please stay tuned for more analysis and amendment information over the next two weeks.

In the meantime, we encourage you to follow along on the State’s Budget Page, read MLRI’s full budget analysis, and review the chart below with funding in key line items.

Click on the Picture to Enlarge

hwmBudget

LH

 

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

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

The Senate Budget Debates: Day 1 is done (re: family homelessness)

As we have posted, the Senate Ways and Means budget was released last Wednesday at noon.  Senators had until Friday at 3pm to submit amendments.  A total of 948 were filed.  The Senate caucused on Tuesday, meaning they met behind closed doors and sorted through the amendments and made their cases. Unlike the House, Senate Amendments are listed by category on mass.gov and when the debates begin, they read them one by one.  You can follow along by watching on-line, tracking the amendment list….and get some tidbits from twitter by following #massbudget (or doing these things all at once if you can figure that out!)

Many of the amendments are announced by number and declared to be determined by the “yay’s or nay’s”…to which there is no response, or discussion, and the President says, “Yays have it” or “Nays have it” and moves on to the next.  The Minority Leader (Senator Bruce Tarr) sometimes questions the amendment and asks the lead sponsor to clarify the intent, and other times the lead sponsor requests (or has been requested) to speak on the merits of the amendment.  A roll call vote can be requested, at which time all Senators vote, majority wins and votes are recorded.

The debates started slow…at the dinner recess, they were at, or around, #120.  But then the Senate President took over when the session resumed….gavel in hand, head down, decisive and efficient… and suddenly they reached the Housing Amendments (ECO…for Economic Development). The session recessed before 10pm after going through 400 amendments.

So this is what happened:

No roll calls were requested.

Other items were held and will be discussed later in the debates.  Often these items need further discussion or were determined to be a “nay” and the sponsor(s) pulls it from the Nay Pile for further advocacy.  These items include:

Still on the list, and in the queue for tomorrow is the EA funding amendment and MRVP amendment, which has been re-drafted to exclude the prioritization of households with extremely low incomes (below 30% AMI) and inserting “ the department shall also develop a system of voucher distribution which prioritizes criteria related to need, ability to benefit, and ability to maintain sustainable housing;

There are also a few other homelessness related amendments remining- earmarks, the HCEC’s, Secure Jobs, housing authorities, HomeBASE reporting and equal treatment for families in motels (compared to non-EA families).

There will undoubtedly be some interesting discussion and debates. Stay tuned….or better yet, be there.

LH

Why we are supporting an expansion to shelter…

We’ve said it before and we will say it again. Massachusetts is facing the biggest family homelessness crisis in the history of the Commonwealth. The family shelter system was procured in 2009 for 2,023 families and is now serving over 4,500. The motel census reached a high in December of 2013 with over 2,240 families.  Today (May 20, 2014), that number is 1,876.  The reduction of families in motels can be attributed to four primary factors:

  • the issuance of MRVP housing vouchers; 500 MRVP vouchers were targeted to the longest term shelter stayers during Fy14. While this number is almost insignificant when compared to the number of families in the system, the exits provided enough movement to restructure scattered site units to house more families and provided housing assistance to families with barriers;
  • the expansion of contracted shelter units; an additional 650 shelter units have been added on this fiscal year.  Providers and DHCD worked together to add capacity that would ensure a higher level of service to families;
  • the dedication, hard work and partnerships between parents, providers and policy makers; better communication and more collaboration between all stakeholders, and an unyielding dedication to ending homelessness, has resulted in policy changes, new program models, transitioning over 5,000 families off of HomeBASE;
  • and use flexible use of the HomeBASE resource- including the increase in the per-family spending cap. Waivers to the 12 month bar and an increase in the HomeBASE stipend amount has resulted in an increase in exits from shelter and motels

There is a shared concern about the over reliance on motels as a response to the homelessness crisis.  Long term motel stays are inhumane– the short and long term impacts on children and their families is unjustifiable…especially in a nation- and a state- as wealthy as the United States and the Commonwealth. We know, and the media has highlighted (again and again), the breadth of concerns- impacts on mental and physical health and development; serious safety risks; fiscal impacts on the state, cities and towns; logistical impossibilities; lack of services, and the list goes on. Even the good motels- healthy conditions, near transportation, community support, access to food and/or cooking facilities, a baseline of services- are only acceptable living situations for so long. Everyone, I think, agrees that motels are not the solution to homelessness.  And undoubtedly, everyone agrees that we do not want children living on the streets of the Commonwealth– so just shutting motels down is not a solution, or even an option.

The solution is housingThe solution is education and jobs. The solution is access to meaningful services. The solution is prevention. The solution is a comprehensive and individualized response to housing emergencies and a range of housing alternatives to meet the needs of sub-populations of low income households. Simple, right? The problem is that we don’t have all of these things (yet).

The Senate proposed a significant investment in MRVP.  Our collective advocacy has made a difference and the program is taking a step towards restoration (remember it was once funded at over $120M!) However, even if all the vouchers were targeted to homeless families, it would not be enough.

NewVouchers Vs Homelessness

 *based on FY13 DHCD caseload data and projected number of vouchers
 proposed in the Senate Ways and Means Budget

But to make matters more complicated, the Senate language precludes the targeting of mobile MRVP directly to families in the EA program and proposes wait-lists be used or established (families in the EA program on the wait-lists will be eligible, assuming they meet other eligibility standards and project based vouchers are not limited by the budget language). So while the investment will help to address the HOUSING CRISIS– the fact that we do not have enough affordable housing to meet the needs of the citizens of the Commonwealth- it will not make a significant impact in our HOMELESSNESS CRISIS.

The increased cap and flexibility in HomeBASE is provides resources for some families- but the gap in wages and rent remains too vast for it to be a long term answer for most; and the social/familial networks of many families in the system simply are not there or are not resourced enough to provide even short term solutions.  Even prevention is temporary without significant and sustainable increases in income or access to a subsidy.

We want to continue to build on the momentum and reduce reliance on motels.  Even if the system can’t shut them all down, the length of stay must be shorter. The problem is that we don’t have enough of the solutions, and turning our backs is not- and could never be- an option.

We are not changing our name…we will never be “Shelters for Families”.  We believe in ending homelessness and we believe in HOMES FOR FAMILIES- not just as our name, but as a human right. And we believe that together, with more advocacy, more community support, with more of the family voice demanding what they NEED, and more holding of Government officials accountable through voting and civic engagement- we will get there. But, we also believe in doing better for families…and until we get enough of the solutions, we need more shelter units. A reasonable number. This is why we support the Lovely amendment, #412 and think you should too.

Please consider contacting your State Senator and ask that they support this amendment.

And click here to see the other amendments we are supporting

LH

The family homelessness situation in Massachusetts is dire…but it does not need to be.

For 12 years, Housing Families Inc has partnered with Homes for Families, Heading Home and Tri-Cap to host a Legislative Breakfast on housing and homelessness.  This year, the consumer advocacy group at Housing Families, organized by HFF Board Member and HFI staff member Laura Rossi, identified Prevention and the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program as key solutions to homelessness.

Here is a copy of Libby’s speech at the event that explains the MRVP and Prevention asks this budget season and how they can impact the homelessness crisis in Massachusetts:

The family homelessness situation in Massachusetts is dire…but it does not need to be.

HFF is a collaboration of shelter providers and families who have experienced homelessness.  Together, we are working to end homelessness as we know it.

The homelessness crisis, as we know it- right now- is unprecedented.

The Department of Housing and Community Development has worked with shelter providers to add on 650 new units of shelter as a step to reduce reliance on motels.  As a result, we have more families in shelters than ever before

This year, with a high of 2,180 in December, we have had more families in motels than ever before.

And because of strict and subjective regulations, more families are being turned away and more children are having to sleep in places not meant for human habitation…than ever before.

The family homelessness situation in Massachusetts is dire…but it does not need to be.

If we want to reduce the demand for shelter, we need more prevention– so that people don’t have to become homeless in the first place. Prevention works and prevention is the most cost effective solution.

We are asking for :

$12M for the RAFT program to keep people housed

And $750,000 for the Tenancy Preservation program which works in housing court to provide prevention and mediation services for households with disabilities.

And that communities continue to mobilize local, municipal and private resources to augment the state’s prevention programs.

In addition-

If we want to reduce the number of families in shelters and motels, we must provide resources for families to exit the system.

We can address the affordable housing crisis and the wage vs rent gap by investing in the Massachusetts Rental Voucher program.

We are asking for a $30million increase, to put the line item total at $87.5 million.

It may sound like a lot of money, but the total state budget is approximately $34 Billion.  If the number one need of constituent callers to legislator offices is housing, it only makes sense that housing gets a bigger slice of that pie.

It may sound like a lot, but the program was once funded at over $120M.  During that time, there were less than 900 families in shelter.  Now, spending is half of that amount- and we have four times the number of families in the EA system. 

$30M may sound like a lot, but we are spending over $40M a year on motels.  Investing in MRVP stabilizes families, landlords and communities; not investing in housing leaves families stranded, without services, access to employment and good nutrition.

$30M may sound like a lot, but it also reflects the cost savings from the premature termination of the HomeBASE Rental Assistance program.  This fiscal year, we are spending $30M is short term subsidies that are all expiring by the end of June.  We are asking that this housing money stay in housing…in a housing program that works.

The administration is proposing to add on 1,000 new shelter units in FY15, as a step in getting out of motels.  But, if we don’t also provide housing resources, we won’t get out of motels, we will simply have a bigger system.

Yes, the situation is dire….but it doesn’t have to be.

Prevention and housing will make a difference.  RAFT, TPP and MRVP will go a long way to support families to avoid and overcome homelessness.

Thank you to Housing Families for going above and beyond in not just hosting an informative and inspirational event, not just their services to families, but for pushing the needle forward in policy through holistic and experience-informed measures.  You truly make the difference.

Click here to read more about the event!