Posts Tagged ‘Unemployment’
Originally only in the wonky DC-based policy blogs, but increasingly also in the mainstream media, the phrase “fiscal cliff” has been appearing. It describes a number of simultaneous events scheduled for the beginning of 2013 that together would disrupt the federal budget, cutting federal spending and raising taxes in an unprecedented and clumsy manner. What does it mean, in general and for homelessness in particular? This blog will attempt to answer that question.
To start, with the way things usually go in the mainstream media, you can virtually count on the phrase “fiscal cliff” soon being abbreviated by writers, so I’ll get that over with by coining the word “FisCliff” right here. FisCliff consists of at least the following, all happening around the beginning of next year:
- Domestic and military spending for nonexempt discretionary programs is cut across the board under the “sequestration” provision of the Budget Control Act;
- Emergency unemployment insurance for long-term unemployed people expires;
- The “Bush tax cuts” (since extended under President Obama) expire;
- The Alternative Minimum Tax is applied to households with lower incomes than those who must pay it currently;
- Monthly payroll taxes go back up to their usual levels;
- Miscellaneous other tax breaks worth $65 billion per year expire;
- Temporary increases in Medicare payments to doctors expire; and
- The limit on the federal debt is reached again, as it was last summer, requiring another expansion.
All of this adds up to $483 billion in revenue increases and spending cuts in one year. This is big-time deficit reduction, but done in a way that’s not necessarily very intelligent. The most relevant example is that sequestration cuts high-priority, extremely effective programs (like homelessness programs!) by exactly the same percentage as lower-priority, inefficient programs.
Probably the biggest single negative impact on homelessness, however, is likely to be the impact on a fragile economy. Economists largely agree that raising taxes and reducing spending that much in one year would make joblessness substantially worse – people would have less money to spend, so businesses would have fewer customers and would lay people off. High unemployment over the past several years has sent millions of people to shelters. More unemployment means more bad news for homeless assistance systems.
As noted before, spending cuts under sequestration would negatively impact homelessness programs. The exact impact is still unclear because Congress has not yet passed final fiscal year 2013 spending levels, but we believe a likely estimate is that about 150,000 people would be homeless instead of housed, just from the impact on the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) and the Continuum of Care (CoC) programs. The large antipoverty entitlement programs like SSI, TANF, and SNAP are exempt, as are all VA programs for veterans – there is still an open question, to be resolved by the White House, whether the HUD rent vouchers under the HUD-VASH program are exempt. Otherwise, all HUD programs are subject to the across-the-board cuts of sequestration.
One thing to remember about FisCliff is that the word “cliff” probably implies a suddenness of impact that will not be evident. Tax cuts and spending increases would go into effect over time. HUD’s Homeless Assistance programs are one example. Reductions in ESG would take place when contracts for 2013 are signed, which occurs in different places over the course of the year. For the CoC programs, the impact would not be felt until the 2013 awards are distributed in early 2014.
In other words, if Congress meets after the election, in a so-called “lame duck session,” and can’t pass a reasonable alternative to FisCliff by January 1, they should keep working!
And what will a “reasonable alternative” look like? For those concerned about homelessness and similar issues, key criteria are:
- First, do no harm to the economy, particularly employment at the low end of the job market. With HPRP running out, the fight to end homelessness will get a lot harder if joblessness gets worse.
- Protect the poorest Americans. So far, the biggest antipoverty programs are exempt from sequestration, with the notable and unfortunate exception of HUD housing programs.
- Resist further cuts to non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending. This is actually the focus of a new national “coalition of coalitions” that had its first meeting last week – for more information click here. This coalition is circulating an organizational sign-on letter, and the Alliance encourages you to join by next Friday, June 22.
- Prioritize what works. Across-the-board cuts almost always represent bad, lazy policymaking. Congress has the ability to figure out which programs really work, and it is irresponsible to act otherwise.
As you can see, FisCliff would greatly harm our efforts to end homelessness, so we must educate Congress on these impacts. As a result, advocates from across the country will educate their Members of Congress about these very issues during Capitol Hill Day 2012, held in conjunction with the Alliance’s annual National Conference on Ending Homelessness in July in Washington, DC. For more information or to get involved in Capitol Hill Day, contact Kate Seif.
It’s a week about employment.
Yesterday, the country celebrated Labor Day (the federal holiday intended to honor the economic and social contributions of workers ) and the country is awaiting President Obama’s jobs speech which is slated for this Thursday (after quite a hullaballoo).
While we’ve been plagued with worries about the high rate of unemployment for years now, we haven’t acknowledged the hurdles that poor employed people face. As New York Times contributor Paul Osterman asked in an editorial yesterday, “yes, we need jobs, but what kind?” Osterman astutely points out that despite job growth in Texas, many people are still struggling to make ends meet as the jobs that were created were low-wage and unskilled.
Late last year, the Alliance highlighted a similar point in Economy Byte: Working Poor People in the United States brief. Nearly six percent of the general working population live at or below the federal poverty line and nearly 20 percent of all poor people work. Though they might be employed, their economic fragility leaves that at elevated risk of experiencing homelessness.
Worth noting, I think, are the federal poverty levels definitions:
|Persons in Family||48 Contiguous States and D.C.|
Given these poverty levels, it’s no wonder that that any individual or family living at or below the federal poverty level is at risk of homelessness. With so little income, any unplanned or unexpected expense could cripple a household.
As we discussed in the brief, there are some specific challenges that poor people face that are indicators for homelessness: severe housing cost burden (paying 50+ percent of monthly income on housing) and doubled up living situations (living with extended family, friends, or other non-relatives due to economic hardship), volatile occupations (including service and retail sector jobs), and tenuous work relationships (studies show working poor people work less than their non-poor counterparts).
Combined with low earnings, these factors lead to higher risk of homelessness for working poor people. (For more information about this Economy Byte, please reference a previous blogpost.)
As the country moves the discussion about jobs further this Thursday, let’s not forget to attend to the needs and challenges of people at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum. Employment should help people move towards economic freedom, self-sufficiency, and more opportunities; together, we can work to make sure it does.
Newsflash: the working poor are having an especially tough time in this recession.
Shocked yet? Probably not.
But the picture is more textured and nuanced than you might imagine.
For the second installment of our “Economy Bytes” series, the Alliance’s Homelessness Research Institute focused on a population that is struggling to weather the “Great Recession” – the working poor.
In short, we found that the working poor population is more likely to experience risk factors for homelessness than the general working population. And a lot of that is because they’ve been disproportionately affected by elements of this recession.
What do we mean? Okay, so we looked at three elements: severe housing cost burden, doubled up housing situations, and income.
And we found that – although people from different income brackets experience severe housing cost burden, doubled up housing situation, and reduced income – the working poor are more likely to experience these factors and experience them more acutely.
- Severe housing cost burden: In 2008, 37.6 percent of the working poor population spent more than 50 percent of their monthly income on rent compared to just 3.8 percent of the general working population.
- Doubled up: In 2008, an estimated 7.8 percent of the working poor population was doubled up with family or friends as compared to less than 6.5 percent of the general working population.
- Income/workforce: On average, the working poor population works 46.2 weeks per year compared to the general working population’s 49.1 weeks per year. Moreover, the working poor population are also employed in more volatile industries and earn less per hour – industry average of $12.78 per hour compared with average private sector earnings of $21.62 per hour – than the average working person.
Each of these factors – and the culmination of them, certainly – are all risk factors for homelessness and, as the data show, common experiences among working poor people.
Today’s blog post comes from Steve Berg, Vice President for Programs and Policy at the Alliance.
As a member of the Alliance’s policy team, I have the privilege and responsibility of meeting with elected officials, members of President Obama’s administration, national advocacy groups, and other stakeholders in the world of homelessness and housing. We share ideas, challenges, strategies, and innovations to best meet our common goals.
Earlier this month I had the distinct honor of attending a White House-sponsored gathering called Next Generation Housing Policy: Convening on Rental Housing. A policy that could do more to help the lowest-income Americans afford decent housing would provide a powerful wind at the back of everyone who works to end homelessness – so the issue is key to our work.
The event took place in a building that looks like a small warehouse, planted in an internal courtyard of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB), next door to the White House. Inside was a comfortable, well-appointed auditorium. About 200 people were there – federal officials, people from the development and financing industry, researchers who study housing, and advocates for low-income people.
Speakers included members of the Obama Administration: Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; Melody Barnes, Director of the Domestic Policy Council; Larry Summers, Director of the National Economic Council. Academics, advocates, and practitioners from the affordable housing world also spoke, offering their ideas for change. Among them was our friend and colleague Rosanne Haggerty of Common Ground, who gave an astute pitch for supportive housing and its positive impacts for homeless people.
- The need for a more active policy on affordable rental housing has captured the Administration’s attention.
This was evident from the fact that this session was taking place, the time devoted to the session by members of the Administration, and the clear commitment expressed to develop a policy proposal that would address the problems people are having affording rental housing.
- The Administration and others see wide ranging benefits in increasing the amount of affordable rental housing. Melody Barnes spoke about affordable rental housing improving joblessness and revitalizing communities. Panelists addressed how a better housing policy can combat poverty, address social inequity, create incentives for wealth building, and promote fair housing. Linking housing policy to these broader goals draws in new allies and builds a stronger case for investments. (The more modest goal of ending homelessness has been embraced by this Administration and is on the list.)
- A universal policy, of decent, affordable housing for everyone, as an end in itself, may not be on the short-term agenda. Concern about the amount of federal debt and resulting difficulty enacting new spending programs was on everyone’s minds. If the policy being developed, however, is one for the next generation (i.e. the next 25 years or so), it will be appropriate to keep a universal approach as a longer-term goal while pursuing partial solutions over the next couple years that either don’t cost a lot or save money elsewhere.
- Housing produces results that can save money, but the savings are hard to predict. In fact, sometimes these savings don’t “count” in deliberations by Congress or the Administration for a number of reasons. Since the publication of research showing the cost-effectiveness of supportive housing, people working on homelessness have been struggling to realize these savings in a concrete way. It’s up to us – housers, policymakers, and advocates – to clearly demonstrate how housing is not only an effective solution but a cost-efficient one as well.
The convening closed with Derek Douglas, Special Assistant to the President and an important mover for the Obama Administration’s policies related to homelessness. Douglas said that staffers at the White House will be developing a policy proposal and that he expects that there will be additional consultation with people who attended this gathering about key details.
On Tuesday, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released the Fifth Quarterly Pulse report – a snapshot of homelessness in eight communities across the country. This latest report covers the time between January to March 2010.
The moral of the story, as conveyed by the current report, is that homelessness is mostly down.
- There was a one percent decrease in the overall shelter count between the fourth and fifth quarters. (All but NYC reported decreases in their local counts.)
- There was a four percent decrease in the number of sheltered persons in families between the fourth and fifth quarters (All but the Richmond, VA community reported decreases in their local family counts.)
- There was a three percent increase in sheltered homeless individuals between the fourth and fifth quarters. (Despite notable decreases in some areas – VA, CT, and KY – increases in other communities, including OH and NYC, contributed to a rise in this number.)
We also noted a couple of economic indicators:
- When comparing January – March 2009 to January – March 2010, seven of the eight sites showed increased joblessness. (LA showed a 0.1 percent improvement in joblessness.)
- Five communities experienced increased joblessness between the fourth and fifth quarters.
- Half of the sites had increased rates of foreclosure activity.
Another point of concern (that’s often reported in news outlets) is the number of newly homeless. In this quarter’s Pulse report, we see that:
- In the eight communities surveyed, the number of newly homeless served decreased by 12 percent as compared to the previous quarter.
- Six sites showed – all but AZ and LA – showed decreases in the number of newly homeless served with OH and NYC leading the pack with 57 percent fewer new clients and 10 percent fewer new clients, respectively.
- About half of new clients were in families, as was the case in the past four quarters. But in a few communities, the proportion largely tilts towards individuals, including DC (80 percent of new clients are individuals), LA (80 percent individuals), and VA (76 percent individuals).
Also of note with this new group: 91 percent of new clients entered an emergency shelter and 31 percent of new clients were children (1 percent of them were unaccompanied youth).
The Pulse report includes the following communities:
Phoenix/Mesa/Maricopa County, AZ
District of Columbia
Frankford, Elizabethtown, KY
New York City
Cleveland/Cuyahoga County, OH
Richmod/Henrico, Chesterfield, Hanover Counties, VA
In the following months, HUD aims to include more communities in the Pulse report and continue to pursue a represent all different types of jurisdictions and geographies. For more information about the Pulse report – and to access the latest report – please visit the HUD Homelessness Research Exchange website.
A great little article from up in Oneida, NY notes the importance of the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program. In Madison County, the Community Action Partnership (CAP) took their HPRP stimulus money and used it to extend short-term, temporary housing assistance for nearly a hundred families in the community.
According to the executive director of CAP, this temporary assistance can be a “soft gap” for people waiting to qualify for Section 8 housing vouchers or for those who need a little extra time before achieving self-sufficiency. The program has been “phenomenal,” not only aiding vulnerable families and providing budgeting counseling but also preventing hundreds of instances of homelessness in the neighborhood.
Things are less phenomenal in Las Vegas, NV where public schools are witnessing an influx of homeless students – an increase of 15 percent according to this morning’s article on the issue. Officials in Nevada note the affect – particularly hard in that state – of three year’s of recession the state resulting in persistent unemployment and, sometimes, job loss (a lagging indicator, as we’ve noted.) The story notes a specific increase in the number of “couch surfers” and doubled up families. Homeless youth are even more vulnerable than their adult counterparts, at higher risk to violence, abuse, and crime.
New York caused a bit of a buzz earlier this week when it announced the city’s Department of Homeless Services decided to run a study to determine if prevention services proved effective at helping people avoid homelessness (CNN ran a decent article about this). This meant that of 400 families randomly selected for the program, half would receive services and the other half wouldn’t. Needless to say, the move has sparked uproar in the community despite the fact that, “The DHS is stressing the fact that all group members were aware they might be chosen to participate in the study and have signed informed consent forms agreeing to the terms.“
And, if you really want to read an article about the Homeless World Cup, this is a pretty good one. While soccer is no solution to homelessness, writer Michael Fox does a good job of explaining the tournament and placing in the context of a larger, national effort.
Note: we’re taking Monday off (federal holiday – controversial or not), but will be back on Tuesday. Happy three-day weekend!
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.
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.
Everyone here at the Alliance is so excited for our conference next week!
So in an effort to get everybody else pepped-up, we thought we’d share ten great things (among hundreds!) that you should look forward to at this year’s conference:
1. The anniversary of the Ten Year Plan
This conference marks the ten-year anniversary of the Alliance’s Ten Year Plan to end homelessness. Our president Nan Roman will discuss what we’ve done so far – and what next steps lie ahead.
2. Secretary Donovan’s keynote
There’s no doubt about it: HUD Sec. Shaun Donovan will discuss the new federal plan to end homelessness and how it can potentially change the whole field of ending homelessness.
3. Capitol Hill Day
Representatives from at least 44 states will be visiting their representatives in Congress to discuss the importance of a federal commitment to end homelessness. Learn more about it here.
4. Secretary Shinseki’s keynote
The VA has committed to ending veteran homelessness in five years and we hope Sec. Shinseki will share their bold new plans with us!
5. Launch of the 100,000 Homes Campaign
Common Ground of New York is committing to housing the hundred thousand most vulnerable people experiencing homelessness. You can find out more here.
This year’s conference offers several tracks – giving you an opportunity to focus on a specific subject or area. Tracks themes include: domestic violence, HPRP, and HEARTH.
7. Expert Roundtables
Wednesday morning, the conference will offer breakfast roundtables with experts in a variety of fields. A great way to meet a leader in the homelessness field.
8. Advocacy Institute
Find out how to turn information into action. The Alliance will offer a half-day Advocacy Institute on Tuesday.
9. Evening Monument Tours
(If you can stand the heat!)
The conference is a once-a-year opportunity to meet and mingle with experts, providers, and advocates in the field. We can’t wait to see you!