Thanks to the Mass. Coalition for the Homeless for this analysis below of the Senate Ways and Means Budget Recommendations released yesterday.  Stay tuned for the Network Action Alert on Network Budget Priorities.

Today, the Senate Committee on Ways and Means (“SWM” or “Senate Ways and Means”) unveiled its fiscal year 2016 budget recommendations for the Commonwealth. This $38.01 billion budget marks the next step on the path to developing the state budget for the fiscal year that will begin on July 1st. This Thursday (May 14th) at 5 p.m. will be the deadline for Senate members to file amendments to the SWM budget, with the Senate budget debate scheduled for next week.
Please see the sections below for preliminary information on the Senate Ways and Mean’s budget proposals for housing, shelter, homelessness prevention, and cash assistance programs– including many positive proposals.
Please stay tuned in the days and week ahead for a more detailed analysis and additional information about amendments.

As we get closer and closer to the final FY’16 budget, your voice remains critical to helping to protect housing, homelessness, and safety net programs for families, individuals, and youth.

To learn more about the Coalition’s FY’16 budget priorities, please click here.

Senate Ways and Means FY’16 Budget Recommendations for Housing, Shelter, Homelessness Prevention, and Cash Assistance Programs

To access SWM’s complete budget recommendations, please go to SWM FY’16 budget recommendations.
To read SWM Chair Senator Karen Spilka’s “Lifting All Families” budget message, click here.

A Quick Look at Selected Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) Line Items

 1.  We are thrilled to announce that Senate Ways and Means included a new line item, 4000-0007, with recommended funding of $2 million to provide housing and wraparound services to unaccompanied youth and young adults through age 24 who are experiencing homelessness. The $2 million would be used to implement the new unaccompanied youth homelessness law, Chapter 450 of the Acts of 2014 and to build upon the ongoing work of the Special Commission on Unaccompanied Homeless Youth. The House only included $150,000 for the work of the Commission.
2. The Senate Ways and Means budget would decrease funding for the Department of Transitional Assistance’s Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children Program (EAEDC, line item 4408-1000), to $78.9 million due to caseload decreases. For FY’15, the program is funded at $85.5 million. (As of March 2015, there were 21,431 households served by EAEDC, a decrease in caseload over last year’s figures.)

SWM included 90-day advance notice language that would require the Administration to notify the Legislature before implementing eligibility restrictions or benefit cuts, up from the current 60-day requirement.

3. The Senate Ways and Means budget would decrease funding for the Department of Transitional Assistance’s Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children grants (TAFDC, line item 4403-2000) to $231.8 million for FY’16, from the FY’15 level of $255.7 million, due to caseload decreases. (As of March 2015, there were 38,114 households served by TAFDC. For more DTA program data, see their April 2015 Facts and Figures report.)

The SWM budget would increase the annual clothing allowance to $200/child (up from the current $150/child), and would maintain the $40/month rental allowance for families living in private market apartments.

In addition, SWM included 90-day advance notice language in this line item (as in EAEDC) that would require the Administration to notify the Legislature before implementing eligibility restrictions or benefit cuts.

4. The Senate Ways and Means budget would set aside $7 million for a homelessness prevention reserve fund at EOHHS to serve families who are experiencing homelessness or in danger of becoming homeless. The line item, 1599-0017, also would require EOHHS to report to House and Senate Ways and Means on the families served, families denied, and other measures. The funds could be used for prevention, diversion, or stabilization, building upon the End Family Homelessness Reserve Fund idea recommended by Governor Baker in his budget proposal.



A Quick Look at Selected Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) Line Items

 1. The Senate Ways and Means budget would fund the Emergency Assistance family shelter and services program (EA, line item 7004-0101) at $154.9 million for FY’16. We are very pleased to report that the SWM budget includes critical language that would require DHCD to provide shelter to otherwise eligible families who are at imminent risk of staying in places not meant for human habitation:

” provided further, however, that a family who has no other feasible accommodation on the date of application for assistance and who would otherwise spend the night in a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings, including but not limited to a car, park, abandoned building, medical facility, bus or train station, airport or camping ground, shall be eligible for assistance”

SWM also would preserve existing access to Emergency Assistance by rejecting the Governor’s proposed elimination of two sub-categories of eligibility that now cover ~33% of families in shelter. Senate Ways and Means expanded the tracking and reporting requirements to direct DHCD to report on families denied access to EA and the reasons for denial, and would require 90 days advanced notice before DHCD could implement any negative eligibility or benefits changes to the program.

2.. The Senate Ways and Means budget would decrease funding for the HomeBASE program (line item 7004-0108) from $29 million in FY’15 (including the mid-year supplemental appropriation) to $26.2 million, but continue to provide shallow rental subsidies, diversion, and moving assistance for certain EA-eligible families. The SWM proposal would allow families to receive up to $8,000 in HomeBASE funds, up from the current limit of $6,000 per household. (During FY’15, some families have been able to receive up to $8,000 total, however, through a combination of $6,000 in HomeBASE funds plus $2,000 from the Housing Preservation and Stabilization Trust Fund.)

SWM improves upon the current draconian 24-month bar on families who are terminated from the program from re-accessing HomeBASE and Emergency Assistance by reducing that bar to 18 months. (The Coalition and allied groups are looking to reduce that bar to 12 months.)

3. The Senate Ways and Means budget would increase funding for the line item that provides funding for shelter and services for unaccompanied individuals at-risk and experiencing homelessness (line item 7004-0102) to $44.7 million, up from the FY’15 funding level of $42.9 million.

4. The Senate Ways and Means budget would fund the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP, line item 7004-9024) at $85.4 million, a $20.4 million increase from the FY’15 direct allocation. (This is a sizable increase, although less than the House’s recommended level of $90.9 million, which expressly authorized the carryover of some unspent funds from FY’15.) Like the House, SWM also removed language included in the FY’15 budget that prohibited DHCD from targeting new subsidies to families living in shelters.

5. The Senate Ways and Means budget would provide increased funding for the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition Program (RAFT, line item 7004-9316) at $12 million. This matches the House’s recommendation.

6. The Senate Ways and Means budget would provide $64 million in funding for public housing authority operating subsidies (line item 7004-9005), a $100,000 decrease from the FY’15 level. This is $500,000 less than the final FY’16 House recommendation.
7. The Senate Ways and Means budget would fund the Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP, line item 7004-9030) at $4.55 million, a $1 million increase over FY’15 funding and the House’s recommended funding level.
8. The Senate Ways and Means budget would fund the Home and Healthy for Good Program (line item 7004-0104) at $1.6 million.This program employs a Housing First model and historically has provided housing and services to unaccompanied adults who have experienced chronic homelessness. SWM removed earmark language to continue a pilot program that serves lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) unaccompanied youth and young adults. In FY’15, that pilot is funded at no less than $200,000.


A Quick Look at the Education Transportation Line Item

 The SWM budget would provide $7.35 million for reimbursements to cities and towns for costs associated with transporting students experiencing homelessness under the McKinney-Vento Act (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education line item 7035-0008). This would be level funding with the FY’15 appropriation, and a decrease of $1 million from the House’s recommended FY’16 spending level.

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