Archive for August, 2010

3rd August
written by Catherine An

Today’s guest post comes from Will O’Brien of Project H.O.M.E. in Philadelphia.

It’s an election year, and here in Philadelphia, we’re feeling the usual election-year buzz.

This year, Pennsylvanians will elect a governor and a U.S. senator – so people across the city are organizing, registering, mobilizing and educating potential voters and candidates on the state’s critical issues.

This year, one of the most active groups mobilizing voters is a coalition called Vote For Homes!, a group comprised of people experiencing homelessness, formerly homeless persons, low-income individuals and families, along with allies and advocates.

For the past dozen election cycles (or so), Vote For Homes! has worked to mobilize and educate citizens during the about the issues that impact our communities, with particular emphasis on the needs of low-income and homeless people and families: housing, jobs, and support services. Drawing on a range of experience and expertise, Vote For Homes! proposes constructive policies and engages in dialogue with candidates. We lead non-partisan voter registration campaigns, reaching out especially to folks in shelters, programs and struggling neighborhoods where people often feel alienated from the political system. Project H.O.M.E. is proud to be one of the leaders in the Vote For Homes! campaign.

We do this because we recognize that it isn’t enough to provide quality services to persons and families in need – we must also address the structures, systems, and policies that aggravate situations of poverty and homelessness. We do this because we believe that all citizens must act responsibly through the political process to try to better our community.

And – most importantly – we do it because it works.

During the 2008 mayoral election, we reached out to all the candidates with a platform to address critical issues about homelessness and poverty in the city. We packed a local church for one of the most well-attended and energetic candidate forums of the entire campaign. We hosted hundreds at a Get Out a Vote rally and both major candidates appeared to speak to our constituents.

The eventual winner, Mayor Michael Nutter, quickly reached out to us for input in formulating policies on homelessness. A few months into his administration the Mayor announced significant new initiatives which have resulted in over 2,000 new housing opportunities created for homeless persons and families thus far. He has also worked hard in the midst of major economic crisis to minimize cuts to programs serving the most vulnerable citizens.

This shows what can happen when we take our democratic rights and responsibilities seriously – it shows what can happen when we claim our power as individuals and as a community working together.

But we also need to realize that success only happens when we work together.

In the past several years, we’ve registered well over 10,000 homeless and low-income voters. We’ve mobilized thousands of people to get to the polls. And we’re doing it again this year.

We believe it is vital for service providers to take the next step and turn your commitments, experience, and knowledge of the issues into nonpartisan electoral action.

Whether the races are for local, state, or federal offices, educate yourselves about what is at stake in this election. Find out about the issues and the candidates. Talk with friends and colleagues. Encourage folks to get out and vote – and do so yourself!

The opportunity is at hand. Together, we can make a difference – just as we have in the past.

For out more about Vote For Homes! and how you can get involved!

You know how you can get involved in the political process RIGHT NOW? You can call your senator and tell them to save the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund! Read our last post to find out more.

2nd August
written by Mindy Mitchell

Today, Mindy Mitchell writes about the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund, which is set to expire on September 30, 2010.

It’s been called the “best kept secret” of the federal stimulus plan, and unless the Senate acts soon, it will be over in just a couple months, which would be devastating for families who are homeless or are just barely avoiding homelessness. It’s the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Contingency Fund (ECF), which the Alliance has advocated using to support homeless families since the ECF began, and which I have been exploring for almost two months now as part of my summer internship.

Because I worked directly with homeless families in my former (pre-law school) life, it’s been more than a little frustrating for me this summer to learn how easily such a good program—for homeless families, for all families who are struggling economically, and for whole communities—can fall through the legislative cracks. The TANF ECF extension was originally part of H.R. 4213, which failed to pass the Senate until it was stripped of all its elements except unemployment insurance (UI). No one seems to know now what will happen to all the other vital programs that were originally included in H.R. 4213, but the Alliance is organizing an advocacy push in hopes of getting things moving again. The stated concern of some Senators about the original legislation was the contribution to the federal deficit (which may not be warranted, btw), but now that UI has been passed on its own, the rest of these programs (including ECF and the National Housing Trust Fund) are all offset and won’t contribute to the deficit. So what’s the hold up, especially when this program is helping not just struggling families but struggling businesses?!

See, that’s the really cool thing about ECF, which CNN Money called “A stimulus program even a Republican can love”! TANF ECF can be used by states in any of three categories: basic assistance (to supplement the regular assistance programs TANF already administers), short-term, non-recurrent benefits (a wide range of preventive and supportive benefits, available even to families who aren’t already receiving TANF), and subsidized employment.

Many homeless providers are taking advantage of ECF’s short-term benefits to supplement and stretch their HPRP funds, including Utah’s The Road Home. And more and more states are taking advantage of the subsidized employment possibilities made available to them through ECF to create some 200,000 jobs, which can be used to serve families at higher income cut-offs than the regular TANF assistance program. These jobs are the real stars of the ECF show because they enable families who are homeless or are struggling economically to improve their incomes (which is an essential part of ending homelessness, of course) and they benefit local businesses and organizations that are also struggling in these tough economic times by allowing them to expand and employ more workers without expending capital that many of them don’t have right now.

It’s a win-win situation for entire communities like Perry County, TN, whose economy was devastated after its major employer, an auto parts factory, closed. And it can be a win-win situation for even more communities across the country if the Senate would only move this legislation along.

Extending TANF ECF would allow states to maintain the impressive subsidized employment programs they’ve begun and would allow states that don’t have subsidized employment programs to begin to implement them, increasing the well-being of families who are homeless and who are struggling across the country before that opportunity is “Going, Going,” and totally gone.

You can save TANF ECF. Call your Senators and ask to speak to the person who works on housing issues (you can find your Congressional office phone numbers by calling the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121). Tell them to make sure their boss works to protect TANF ECF before it’s too late.