5/15-5/19 What is happening Under the Golden Dome…

….relative to housing and homelessness?

 

The Senate Committee on Ways and Means will release their budget proposal on Tuesday, May 16th. The deadline to file any amendments to the SWM proposal is Thursday and debates will begin the following Tuesday, May 23rd.  Debates will wrap up in time for Memorial Day Weekend.

The budget proposal release is not the only action and activity taking place at the State House next week, click here for the full schedule of hearings and events for the month of May. 

There are three committee hearings on Monday – the House Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets; the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, and the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change. Both the House and Senate will be in “informal session”.

Monday will be a good day to call your Senator’s office and let them know what you hope they will prioritize in the Senate Budget Debates.  Click here look up your State Senator and below is a sample script:

“Hi, my name is ______ and I live in the Senator’s district in _(your town)__. I am calling because I am concerned about (housing, homelessness, transportation, jobs, education…be specific) and I am asking that the Senator prioritizes these issues during the upcoming budget debates.

And it will also be a good day to write testimony in support of or against any of the bills that are being considered in the week ahead. Verbal testimony should be 3 minutes or less. Written testimony can be submitted to the committee.

Tuesday is the big day! Not only will the budget be released, but there are 12 hearings scheduled!! The Joint Committee on Housing is hosting an Oversight Hearing  (oversight hearings generally include invited panelists from State or Quasi agencies or other experts in the field and the public is open to listen). Other hearings focus on bills, many of which touch on the issue of family homelessness, and are open to the public to listen and/or give testimony:

Wednesday there is one hearing hosted by the Joint Committee on Transportation. Wednesday will be a key day for confirming sponsors for Amendments to the Senate Ways and Means Proposal and Thursday will be the deadline. Now is the time to sign up for our action alerts if you have not already.

Did you know that Massachusetts often near the top of the list for the number of bills filed; but is close to the bottom of the list of the number of bills passed. This slightly outdated article lists us as passing only 5% of all bills. However, hearings give us all a chance to be heard; to make our case, to elevate an issue, to interact with those that make decisions impacting our lives, to support legislators fighting the good fight, and to call out injustices of bad bills.

For more on Legislative and Budget advocacy, click here for a recent webinar (slides or full presentation with audio) we did with our colleagues on the On Solid Ground Coalition.

LH

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 interrupt our regularly scheduled (#NHHAW #VDAY) Blog Posts, to give you an important 9C cut update

According to Massbudget Policy Center. Section 9C of Chapter 29 of the Massachusetts General Laws requires that when projected revenue is less than projected spending, the Governor must act to ensure that the budget is brought into balance.  With a projected shortfall for this fiscal year, Governor Patrick has acted and proposed a series of cuts.  There are a lot of cuts and dings across programs- many to administrative lines, incentives, reserves, earmarks, and uncommitted grants.

Housing and shelter line items were essentially unscathed- less a reduction to the DHCD administration line, less than $1M from MRVP and a $76,000 reduction to the DMH subsidy program.  From our understanding the cut to MRVP will not impact the distribution of vouchers as the lease up time will result in a surplus in the line item.  The Salary Reserve was also preserved

Relative Human Services programs did take some significant cuts including the following:

DPH Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention and Treatment ($50,000)
DPH Healthy Relationships Grant Program ($150,000)
DMH Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services ($5M)
DMH Mental Health Services Including Adult Homeless and Emergency ($2M)
DMH Emergency Services and Mental Health Care ($3.6M)
Inpatient Facilities and Community-Based Mental Health Service ($790,000)
DTA Pathways to Self Sufficiency ($10M…out of $11M)
DTA Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children Grant Pmt ($5M)
DTA Emergency Aid to the Elderly Disabled and Children ($2M)

 

We will be in communication with our partners that work on the Pathways to Self Sufficiency Program and the Welfare Coalition to learn more about the impact of the cuts.

Other cuts to human services, according to the Provider’s Council (cut and pasted from their email) are:

Department of Mental Health

DMH will see a $11.6 million reduction resulting in delayed programs and a loss of funds in emergency funding for the uninsured.

Department of Developmental Services

DDS will have its budget reduced by $5.5 million. Much of this will come from reduction of funds to Day and Employment Services and Family Support Services.

Department of Youth Services
DYS will see a reduction of about $385,000. The costs will be absorbed through delaying the opening of two programs, according to DYS.

Executive Office of Elder Affairs
Elder Home Care Purchased Services (line item 9110-1630) will see a 9C cut of about $1.5 million. The FY ’15 final budget included $104.4 million for services in this line item which will be reduced to $102.9 million.

Local Aid

Governor Patrick proposed a $25.5 million reduction in local aid, which will require  legislative approval when the formal session starts in January.

There were also cuts to libraries, ANF, Fish and Wildlife, and Conservation and Recreation, and in education programs.

We are grateful for the Administrations commitment to preserving our housing programs and the safety net of shelter and the thoughtfulness to minimize the impact of the cuts on vulnerable populations.  We will work to understand the impact of the cuts to programs and people and do support the use of the rainy day fund to further minimize the of the budget shortfall.

Here is the link to the State’s website with additional information.

Now that you have digested all of that information, remember that this is the Governor’s proposal. There is already push back from the Legislature, as this Globe article reports.

Stay tuned!

LH

Visioning Day Report 2014: Every Child Needs a Safe Place To Live; It’s Just The Right Thing

Child FB pic

 

The next of the recommendations contained in Homes for Families’ 2014 Visioning Day Report point toward the basic principle that EVERY CHILD NEEDS A SAFE PLACE TO CALL HOME; IT’S JUST THE RIGHT THING. Until we have developed an ample supply of housing that families can afford, and we are able to provide robust prevention and stabilization services, our state’s safety net shelter system will remain a critical tool to keep our children safe. Our specific recommendations based on the input from Visioning Day are:

  1. Implement a holistic and strength-based assessment and triage system at the “front door” of the Emergency Assistance system to maximize opportunities for diversion, placement, prevention, service deliver and rapid re-housing.
  2. Increase family-centered services in motels, shelters and for families that are doubled up or living in other precarious situations to ensure children’s safety, development and well being.

 Support services, access to shelter, children’s issues and motel services were ranked just below voucher distribution as the top priorities in the issue ballot distributed at Visioning Day. Feedback in each of the breakout groups also included themes of assessment, and support for all families- and all family members.

While Massachusetts has a moral and legal obligation to provide shelter to all families that meet the eligibility criteria, only 56% of the 11,595 applicants in fiscal year 2014 were determined to be eligible[1]. The primary function of the “front door” to the shelter system is an eligibility screening, rather than as assessment of the needs or strengths of any particular family.  Services for families are contingent on whether or not they enter the system and the particular service delivery model of the motel or shelter that they are placed in.

On Access and Triage:

An assessment based system would approach families in a more trauma informed, strength based and holistic model.  Information gleaned from an assessment process could identify opportunities, resources and family assets that may present pathways to stability outside of the shelter system. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a successful diversion program is one where services offered include, at a minimum, flexible cash resources, case management, conflict mediation, connection to mainstream services and housing search.[2]  At the same time, families entering the system could be triaged to the most appropriate placements, and/or linked with the resources they need for rapid re-housing and shorter shelter stays.  Systems across the country are implementing coordinated assessment systems.  If we embrace the diversity of program models, and maximize the services and resources across communities, Massachusetts stands poised to be a leader in this area.

But, most importantly, as assessment based shelter entry would function to ensure children’s safety.  According to DHCD’s June 2014 monthly report, 607 families entered the shelter system in FY2014 after staying in places not meant for human habitation.  We shouldn’t be, and can’t be, putting our children at such risk.  An assessment based system could also prevent situations like this.  Massachusetts was recently ranked #3 in the country for the well being of homeless children. The ranking  is, in part, due to having a plan that includes children and families.  It is time that we move past the planning and build on on the good, all the knowledge and all the strengths of families and our system.

On Services:

Increasing resources and support for family-centered services for families at all stages of housing instability is crucial. This is extremely critical for families who are housed in motels across the state and for families who are doubled-up or living in other precarious housing situations.  We know the impacts of homelessness on children- their health, their education, and emotional well being. Access to services can help mitigate the negative impacts of homelessness- and housing instability- on children.  Attendees at Visioning Day also discussed the need for access to child care, transportation, education/job training, and mental and behavioral health services- all complicated systems to navigate without an advocate.  Services, supports and opportunities can often be the determining factor as to if a family enters the shelter system, if they can utilize short term housing assistance (i.e. HomeBASE), and/or whether or not they will ever need to seek re-entry into shelter.

How do we push this agenda forward?

This is where you come in! What specific assessment tools, frameworks and diversion tactics do you see that are working? What are the barriers? What data to we have or do we need to track our successes? Who, or what entity, should be assessing families? What are the training needs of staff to successfully implement proper assessment, triage and diversion? How can triaging work in a system that is overcapacity- especially when more families are coming in than exiting? Who is responsible for providing services? How can families outside of the shelter system access the types of supports they need to move towards housing and economic stability?

 

[1] Commonwealth of Massachusetts Emergency Assistance Program Fiscal Year 2014 Fourth Quarter Report, Dept of Housing and Community Development, July 31, 2014
[2] National Alliance to End Family Homelessness, Closing the Front Door: Creating a Successful Diversion Program for Homeless Families, http://b.3cdn.net/naeh/2b98efdfcf27486475_uim6b5a3h.pdf.

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