Thursday, May 14, 2009

State budget: we'll all be hurt, but poor take the biggest hit

I received the following message from the Mass Coalition for the Homeless last night. PLEASE take action TODAY-- and don't forget the little car program from my previous post.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee released its version of the fiscal year 2010 budget today, and the outlook it paints is bleak.

In the face of the ever-worsening economic crisis, the Senate Ways and Means (SWM) budget includes $26.7 billion in spending recommendations for FY'10, which will begin on July 1st. (As a comparison, the state anticipates it will spend $29.1 billion during this current fiscal year.)
The Senate Ways and Means budget includes $2.4 billion in cuts to state programs and services, including the elimination of 77 line items. As compared to Governor Patrick and the final House of Representative's proposed budgets, the SWM budget is based on a dramatically lower revenue projection for next year, $1.5 billion lower than the projection used by the House just a few weeks ago. The SWM budget does not include any proposals for raising taxes, but the full Senate is expected to take up the tax debate next week.

The SWM Committee has proposed devastating cuts to many of the key homelessness, housing, and safety net program line items. The budget would:

-- Reduce funding for the Emergency Assistance family shelter program (FY'10 line item 7004-0101; current line item 4403-2120) from the FY'09 spending level of $113.4 million to $82.6 million for FY'10. (This is $11.2 million less than the House's budget proposal for FY'10.) The Senate Ways and Means Committee has recommended the elimination of eligibility for families with incomes between 100%-130% of the federal poverty guidelines. (For a family of three, income eligibility would be reduced from $23,803/year to $18,310/year.) Based on data from the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), there were 158 families with children in shelter in March 2009 who had incomes between 100%-130% of the federal poverty guidelines. If those numbers are representative of a typical month, the change sought by the Senate Ways and Means Committee could lead to more than 300 children each month being left without the basic safety net of shelter! The SWM budget also lacks critical line item language included in the final House budget that would require the Department of Housing and Community Development to apply the regulations used by DTA at the time of the program's transfer on July 1st, and additional provisions that would protect families.

-- Impose a 45% reduction in spending for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP, line item 7004-9024). This is the same as the House Ways and Means Committee proposal, which was rejected by the full House during their budget debate. If the SWM funding level remains in the final budget, this reduction of funding to $17,997,061 in FY'10 could lead to an unconscionable loss of subsidies for 2,300-2,900 extremely low-income households in Massachusetts. Outside Section 73 of the Senate Ways and Means budget would require the Massachusetts Housing Finance Authority (MassHousing, an independent public authority) to provide additional funding for MRVP, as was provided in FY'09- although it is unclear if these funds exist (as the FY'09 MassHousing contribution was referred to as "one-time funding"). At a time when the Commonwealth has committed itself to ending homelessness, we unfortunately may see how the economic crisis and budget decisions will increase the level of homelessness in our state.

-- Cut $10 million from the Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children Program (line item 4408-1000), a program that provides cash assistance to extremely low-income elders and persons with disabilities. This could lead to a dramatic benefit reduction for program participants, who currently receive only $304/month!
-- Slash funding for the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition Program (RAFT, line item 7004-9316) from $5.5 million in FY'09 to only $2 million in FY'10. SWM also would limit benefits to $2,000 per household, from the current benefit limit of $3,000 per household. If the average payment per family remains the same as FY'09 levels, the program would be able to serve approximately 1,100 families in FY'10 versus an estimated 3,000 families in FY'09.

Senate members only have until this Friday, May 15th at noon to submit floor amendments to this proposed budget. The Senate is scheduled to debate this budget and consider floor amendments starting next Tuesday, May 19th.

The Coalition will be back in touch shortly regarding floor amendments that need your support, as well as other advocacy efforts to protect these vital programs. In the meantime, please continue your outreach to your State Senator to let him/her know that you support increasing state revenues so as to protect key services and resources for families and individuals who are at-risk or experiencing homelessness.
We hope to see you at the Stop the Cuts rally and lobby day at the State House this upcoming Monday, May 18th, from noon-1 p.m.: Stop the Cuts rally information

Once again, we are grateful for your tireless advocacy during these difficult financial times!

Senate Ways and Means Committee Budget Recommendations for Homelessness Prevention, Shelter, Housing, and Benefits Programs

Please follow this link to access the Coalition's chart comparing the Senate Ways and Means Committee's recommendations with the FY'09 appropriations, the Governor's FY'10 recommendations, and the final House FY'10 recommendations: Budget Comparison Chart

To access the Senate Ways and Means Committee's complete budget recommendations, please go to Senate Ways and Means' FY'10 Budget Recommendations

To learn more about the Coalition's FY'10 budget work, please go to the Coalition's FY'10 Priorities

We hope you will join us as the Coalition continues to push for the protection of housing and homelessness programs for FY'10. We will keep you informed of the progress as the state's budget makes it way through the next stages in the weeks ahead.

For more information, please contact Leslie Lawrence

or Kelly Turley at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, 781-595-7570.

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