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On Thursday, May 17, the Alliance hosted a Congressional Briefing, “Rapid Re-Housing: Ending Family Homelessness.” The briefing was sponsored by Senator Patty Murray, and provided a glimpse into how a couple of communities are using rapid re-housing to revolutionize how they are responding to family homelessness as well as the critical important role that federal funding plays in continuing the success of these programs.
In addition to the Alliance’s own Nan Roman, the speakers included:
- Matt Minkevitch, Executive Director of The Road Home in Salt Lake City, UT, who discussed how they have used rapid re-housing to prevent an increase in family homelessness during the recession by helping over 1,000 families move out of shelter and back into their housing using both TANF and HPRP funds;
- Nan Stoops, Executive Director of the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, in Seattle, WA , who shared the important benefits they have seen for both survivors and their families as well as to providers through the work they have been doing with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to provide grants and technical assistance to providers that help survivors get rapidly re-housed or safely stay in their own housing; and
- Kelly Thompson, from Humility of Mary Shelter, Inc. in Davenport, IA, which has just begun to implement a rapid re-housing model with a grant from the Supportive Services for Veterans Families Program and has already seen the impact it has had on both the families it has served and their own capacity to serve families they were not able to before.
The panel also included the voice of a father who experienced homelessness with his family after unexpectedly losing his job. He detailed the challenges he, his wife, and his children faced while trying to navigate homelessness and the dramatic difference that rapid re-housing provided in the lives of himself and his family. His daughter has returned to school and he happily reported that he is going to take it easy on her, despite her getting a “93 on an English test.”
This briefing highlighted what we know to be true across the country: rapid re-housing is working to end homelessness for families, it is helping them get their lives back on track and helping providers serve more families in need, but HPRP funding is disappearing, and without federal support, the great progress made by these programs is in danger.
Two days ago, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees finished their negotiations and published a final fiscal year 2012 funding bill for HUD, among other agencies. This is a conference committee report, meaning that it goes for an up-or-down vote in the House and Senate, no amendments allowed. Every indication is that it will pass Congress and be signed by the President this week.
As we pored through its contents Monday night and Tuesday morning, the bill set off mixed emotions, starting with a letdown that our efforts to get an increase in homeless assistance had not worked but relief that homeless assistance grants had escaped any cuts and that HUD-VASH had been expanded. This was followed by shock at the extent of the final cuts in some HUD programs and intense frustration with the overall state of federal affordable housing policy.
Here’s our take on what the HUD funding bill means for ending homelessness.
HUD homelessness funding – With the homelessness-specific programs, it’s important to be clear about two things to start:
- HUD-VASH continues to grow each year, building on unified support. The bill includes $75 million for new HUD-VASH vouchers, enough to house another 11,500 homeless veterans or more. Earlier this year, there were serious questions about whether the new Congress would continue to support this program. These questions have been put to rest, at least for now.
- In light of what turned out to be substantial cuts in HUD spending, maintaining level funding for homelessness assistance, one of the larger programs at HUD and the one that serves the most politically powerless constituency, is a remarkable achievement.
These results are testament to the hard work of many people, especially our partners all over the country. After last fall’s election, people embraced the important work of building relationships with decisionmakers who were either new to Congress or new to leadership positions, and convincing them that solutions to homelessness are worth investing in and are in the interests of Republicans and Democrats both. This work is something to build on next year and in years to come.
At the same time, the economy remains bad, the number of homeless people (especially children) is going up, and the number of people teetering on the brink of homelessness is going up a lot. Level funding for homeless assistance programs is not enough. A substantial increase in homelessness remains a grave possibility. We still have a lot of work to do in order to deal with this threat of increased homelessness at the local and state level and to convince political leaders that they need to be partners in our effort.
HUD Overall – The overall HUD budget did see a cut, for the second year in a row. In the area of housing, the oft-repeated promise that federal budget problems will not be resolved on the backs of the poor has not been fully borne out.
Although it is too early to tell for sure, one apparent cause for relief is the protection for existing Section 8 vouchers. Section 8 vouchers are funded at close to full renewal level, and if PHAs with large monetary reserves use some of that money, we may get through the year with the voucher program housing as many people as it does today. Meanwhile, beside the new HUD-VASH vouchers, there is also some “tenant protection” money to replace demolished public housing. Funding for PHAs to run the programs, however, remains a concern.
Meanwhile, three large programs were cut severely, accounting for the bulk of the reductions for HUD:
- CDBG – Cut by over 11 percent, on top of much larger cuts last year, leaving CDBG funding at the lowest level in many years. Because CDBG largely funds one-time capital costs of new projects, Congress tends to regard it as something that can be reduced in tight budget years. Unfortunately, though, 20 percent of CDBG funding is used for administration, often paying salaries for city and state government employees who work locally on homelessness.
- HOME – Cut to $1.0 billion, from $1.6 billion last year and $1.825 billion in FY 2010. HOME is an important resource for affordable housing development. This cut will mean less new affordable housing.
- Public Housing – Cut by over 12 percent from last year. Last year there was also a large cut in public housing capital expenditures, softened by money for public housing in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (commonly referred to as the “stimulus”). This year, Congress piled on and cut even more, especially for operating expenses. It is hard to see how PHAs can absorb this cut without maintenance backlogs, more uninhabitable apartments, and fewer people housed.
To be clear, it’s not like there is any other version of a HUD budget that could start with this little money and somehow get substantially better results. The problem here is bigger, and there are two parts to it:
1) Because of the deficit reduction deal reached earlier this year and the push in the new Congress to cut spending, the overall amount of money in the budget is low; and
2) Within those constraints, housing for low-income people has not turned out to be a high enough priority for many decisionmakers.
The overall budget constraints are expected to be even tighter over the next few years, especially if the super-committee process either fails to produce legislation, or produces legislation that causes further problems for low-income Americans. On the bigger budget issues, it seems clear that Congress will have more to say before anything is finalized for FY 2013.
The probable situation over the next few years, however, is that there will be a whole range of things Congress can no longer afford to do. In the past, such decisions have been moderated by a determination to pick out some relatively small initiatives and continue to grow those – expanding funding for new permanent supportive housing in 2005 and 2006, while many other programs were being slashed, is an example.
Will Congress abandon efforts to end homelessness? Or will it pick the initiative back up in the coming years? The stakes will grow higher as more and more people experience or live in danger of homelessness.
Fortunately, the work our community has already done with the new Congress, and the substantial assets we bring to bear, make this a challenge we can meet. New decisionmakers are increasingly getting the message that money spent on homelessness produces tangible and profound results, moving toward solutions to a problem that very few people, only a few years ago, thought could be solved. Our commitment to achieving better results every year, and to sharing those results with the people who make decisions, has given us the ability to generate support for homelessness programs in any political or fiscal environment. We’ll need to build that support and be more vocal about how other HUD programs contribute to our success.
We’re going through a tough period now, and it will require us, working together, to continue to do remarkable things. But remarkable things are the stock in trade for the community of people around the country working to end homelessness. At the Alliance, we are proud to be a part of this community and we are confident that together, we will succeed.
The House and Senate are making decisions right now that will have a critical impact on funding for homelessness assistance programs. In order to prevent projected increases in homelessness, we need to increase federal funding for essential programs like the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants. That is why we teamed up with the Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding (CHCDF) to sponsor a National Call-In Week happening now.
First, some background information:
With the passage of the debt ceiling bill, Congress began work in earnest on fiscal year (FY) 2012 spending. Currently, the House and Senate are in the process of making final decisions on key programs such as McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants. These final decisions are happening in conjunction with ongoing concerted efforts to cut spending and reduce the federal deficit. While homelessness programs have been fortunate enough to not have been cut, proposals so far have been to simply flat fund many of these programs, including the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants. While we are grateful that these programs are unlikely to be cut, flat funding is simply not enough. As our recent report indicates, increasing federal funding is the only viable way to prevent an increase in homelessness.
The House and Senate Appropriations Committees will be working over the coming weeks to come to an agreement on funding levels for HUD and other programs before final legislation is passed. If the final legislation includes flat funding for McKinney-Vento Grants, there won’t be enough resources to effectively support the many Americans who are among the rising numbers of those experiencing homelessness.
What You Can Do
Contact your Members of Congress this week and urge them to give as much funding as possible to HUD, including an increase to HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants. The goal of our call-in week is to convince Members of Congress to provide as much funding for HUD as possible in the short time that is left before they make final funding decisions.
It’s important that Members of Congress, especially those on the Appropriations Committees, request moving enough additional money into the FY 2012 HUD funding bill to provide for an increase in homelessness funding, and the more of their constituents that they hear from, the more likely they are to act.
For more information, or if you have questions, email Kate Seif at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some Helpful Resources:
Our Friday news Roundup is broken down today by some of the issue areas the Alliance works on:
- Still not convinced that permanent supportive housing is the solution to chronic homelessness? Check out this story from Cleveland, Ohio and this recently published study from Australia.
- The Reading Eagle out of Pennsylvania took an in-depth look at the rise in family homelessness, and the barriers some families face in finding affordable housing.
- Annie Lowrey suggests one way to help the long-term unemployed is to bring back the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Contingency Fund (ECF). The program expired last September, which this very blog called “a low down dirty shame.”
- This week, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released a report finding that the child poverty rate increased 18% between 2000 and 2009, returning to the level of the early 1990s.
- Monday will be back to school for many students across the country. The Tallahassee Democrat looks into what that means for students who don’t have a place to call home.
Did we miss any important news this week? Tell us in the comments!
For months now, the Alliance and like-minded interest groups had warned against the impact of the recession on state budgets. (In fact, Nan discussed it in the Washington Post after the release of The State of Homelessness in America.)
States, already feeling pressure on their financial resources, strained to meet the needs of the increasing number of people and families seeking public assistance as they experienced job loss, unemployment, and other economic distress as a result of the recession.
And now, at least in Washington state, it seems that the pressure has finally come to a hilt. The state has decided to reduce their TANF program by 15 percent – cutting nearly 5,000 families off welfare.
Clearly this is exactly the wrong time to deny struggling families the resources they need to avoid economic turmoil – like homelessness. While the recession may be over in theory, communities across the country can testify to the increased – and sometimes still increasing – number of people seeking charitable as they continue to struggle.
And frankly, we all saw it coming. The Alliance examined state budgets in the research newsletter last fall, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published a number of briefs about TANF and the Emergency Contingency Fund, and on this very blog, we asked you to support the extension of TANF ECF, a small, effective, and efficient federal program helping people find jobs, avoid homelessness, and support their families. Certainly, we could’ve headed this off with the right programs.
Because Washington will not be the last place where families are denied public assistance because the state can no longer provide it. Indeed, Washington will likely be the first of many states to turn families away, leaving those families at risk of homelessness and more economic misfortunes.
Photo courtesy of billaday.
So the big news topping off the cycle today is Los Angeles – they’ve taken a huge step forward in ending chronic and veteran homelessness. Sure, it’s still just a plan on paper, but never before has the homeless capital of the country shown such potential in really making progress toward ending homelessness in the city. We have high hopes for the city of angels – and we’re so thrilled to be a part of this important step forward.
There were a couple of pieces out this week about the expiration of jobless benefits. I know being a legislator is no small task, but since the expiration of TANF ECF, I’ve had my reservations about their judgment (remember TANF ECF? That great program?). You don’t have to be a federal lawmaker to know that people in this country are still struggling from the effects of the recession – that joblessness and underemployment and poverty still afflict Americans across the country. Why are we denying relief? And right around the holidays? It’s curious. Slate and the Los Angeles Times find it curious too.
A really interesting series started in the San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday. Doctor Jan Gurley is taking some time to examine the relationship between homelessness and mortality. While it may not come as a galloping shock that people experiencing homelessness are at higher risk of death, her writing and findings are really quite enlightening.
And that’s a wrap for the week!
My name is Jeremy Nichols and I am the Alliance’s new Advocacy intern. In one short month, my time with the Alliance has already been filled with emailing member’s offices, conducting webinars, and getting used to the nonprofit world’s love of abbreviations (TANF ECF, HEARTH, HPRP, the list goes on).
I’ve been drawn to the issue of homelessness since high school. I grew in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and during my first week of high school, life ground to a halt when Hurricane Katrina hit. As people began to pick up the pieces in the weeks following the hurricane, it became clear to me that those families and individuals teetering on the brink of financial stability were about to be pushed off the edge.
Like so many, I tried to do my part. I volunteered through my church and worked with at-risk individuals living in the FEMA trailer parks. As the trailer parks began to be phased out, those left stranded were often mentally and physically incapable of holding jobs, paying rent, and fending for themselves. We worked to help such people: we secured benefits, dealt with landlords, and found stable living environments.
The entire experience opened my eyes to the stark scarcity of resources available for people experiencing homeless. Moreover, it became clear that the few resources that do exist are mired in miles of red tape that can seem impossible to navigate.
I’m also a bit of a political junkie, so when this advocacy internship opportunity came up, it was just too good to pass up. This is the chance for me to try and influence legislation for a cause that I believe in.
The way I see it, the place where we can really make a change for people experiencing homelessness is in public policy. By securing better legislation that addresses the specific issues that homelessness providers are faced with – such as lack of funds and red tape – we can help those providers offer more effective services for their clients and communities. I see it the way the Alliance does: that federal policy can influence better programs which can, in turn, better serve those most in need of our assistance. Systems change at the national level will lead to, we all hope, programmatic change at the local level.
Besides ending homelessness the list of things I enjoy includes bicycles (I just completed my first cross country cycling trip!), Indian food, comic books, and pecan pie. Before coming to Washington, D.C., I lived in rainy Portland, OR and attended Lewis & Clark College. Its been quite a shock going from the granola-munching-flannel-wearing Northwest to a place where casual seems to mean unbuttoning the top button of a Brooks Brothers oxford. In my short time in DC, I have fallen in love with E Street Cinema, greatly enjoyed the numerous bike paths, and indulge my inner history nerd with all of the Smithsonian museums.
I am going to start off with the good news first because I know the East coast has had a rough week! We at the Alliance got a little recognition today for our work helping the The Lincoln Homeless Coalition revamp the way they serve homeless families. Which, faithful reader, you already know all about from this blog. So kudos to our CAP team! (Want the CAP team in your community? Check out the website.)
Working at the Alliance may make me biased but I was convinced even more this week about the importance of homelessness research. In order to effectively solve a problem, we must first fully understand it. And the research can be hard to swallow – like this report from Toronto – which indicates that homeless youth, particularly lesbian and bisexual women and young people of color, are overwhelmingly victims of crime. Why on earth would anyone victimize a homeless kid?
But with every cloud comes a silver lining. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) has urged members of the Senate to designate these kind of violent attacks against people experiencing homelessness as hate crimes. This act, the “Hate Crimes Against the Homeless Statistics Act,” would lead to stiffer penalties for perpetrators and mandate the collection of data on this problem – which hopefully will lead to better solutions. All this because of reports that violent attacks of this nature have been on the rise here in the United States. See how important data can be??
Speaking of research, despite overwhelming evidence and countless case studies, some people are still apprehensive about Housing First programs. Nashville has struggled with this, as well as New Orleans, this time against units that would provide permanent supportive housing. Admittedly, it’s not a popular strategy, especially for community members. But it’s one that has repeatedly demonstrated success – and it’s the best strategy we know to effectively end homelessness. And really, isn’t that what it’s all about?
Finally, the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Contingency Fund (ECF) expired yesterday. The New York Times profiled a community in Tennessee that expects to be hit hard by this loss, and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities rounded up how some states will feel the burn. This is disappointing news, but now is not the time to throw in the towel!
We know that our supporters are committed to ending homelessness – roadblocks or no roadblocks! You can still make an impact – call your senators and speak to the housing staffer. Tell them their boss should commit to restoring TANF ECF and capitalizing the Trust Fund this year. Let us know in the comments how it goes! (Find you Senators’ phone number through the congressional switchboard: 202-224-3121.)
So, here’s the update.
Today, the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Contingency Fund (ECF) expires.
You’re read all about it on our blog. You know what the program does. You know that it’s an effective, affordable initiative that not only gets results but helps thousands of vulnerable Americans by providing financial assistance and creating jobs (and if you don’t, check out this post).
So it’s a low down dirty shame that the U.S. Senate has decided to let this program fold. Worse still that as a result of the expiration, 240,000 people could lose their jobs tomorrow, even today. Articles in both Mother Jones and Campus Progress explain the consequences of the end of this program, including the effect it’ll have on people in poverty, vulnerable families, and 99ers.
It’s worth noting here that there are some senators who stepped up to the plate. Senator John Kerry (D- MA) tried to circulate a sign-on letter urging his colleagues to support an extension of the program. Senator Dick Durbin (D – IL) also noted that the program had been critical in his state of Illinois.
And we can’t underestimate the gratitude that we owe you – for calling on your senators to ask them to support this important program.
But you win some, you lose some. And at the end of the day, this social safety net program will expire leaving thousands of Americans with even fewer resources in this time of economic turmoil. We can and must do better. As need will inevitably continue to rise, we can make sure that we take an even more active, engaged approach to helping the most vulnerable of our neighbors.
We may have lost the round, but there are plenty more legislative battles ahead. Stay tuned to the blog for more opportunities to get involved. And in the meantime, take a moment of silence to mark the passing of TANF ECF.
Urge Congress to save TANF ECF by calling your senator now.
- Call your senators and ask to speak to the person who works on welfare issues. Don’t know the number? Call the congressional switchboard to find out: 202-224-3121.
- When the staffer who works on welfare issues picks up, ask him or her to urge their boss (read: the senator) to call Senate leaders and tell them that they support extending TANF ECF.
- If you can, report back! We want to hear what happened – what they said, what they promised, if they had any objections. Learning about your efforts can help us make a more concerted try with ours. Call (202-942-2856), email, or drop us a note here or on Facebook.
Remember: The ECF was created as part of the Recovery Act, intended to help states support the increasing number of people receiving TANF due to the recession. Since it passed, the program has:
- provided cash assistance to low-income families;
- provided short-term rent assistance to families experiencing a housing crisis; and
- created 250,000 subsidized employment opportunities nationally, many of which will end on September 30 if Congress does not act to extend the funding.