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Memorandum from DCF Regarding Future of General Assistance Housing Program

Posted June 28, 2017

Memorandum

To: Housing and Homelessness Providers and Advocates
From: Ken Schatz
Re: Update on General Assistance Emergency Housing
Date: June 28, 2017

_________________________________________________________________

The purpose of this memo is to provide you an update on the challenges we are facing with the General Assistance Emergency Housing (GA) budget. Please find accompanying materials here.

Program Update:

Over the last two years, I have greatly appreciated your work to create new alternatives to the General Assistance Motel Voucher program. Our collective hope has been to provide a better service delivery system to individuals and families who are homeless, and realize savings in the GA Emergency Housing budget. Since embarking on this project with all of you, we are happy to report that more than 16 GA funded community investments have been implemented in the past two years.

Due to a continued increase in homelessness in our state overall; spikes in a few key communities; a colder winter with more Cold Weather Exception eligible nights; and the projects not saving as much GA funding as projected – in FY17, we expect to spend nearly $1M more than GA Emergency Housing was budgeted. Additionally, the legislature cut the GA Emergency Housing budget by $150K in SFY18. The legislature provided $600K in one-time funding to site warming shelters in the Bane and Rutland AHS districts and these will be challenging to implement. Excluding the one-time funding to site new seasonal shelters in the Barre. and Rutland districts, the legislature budgeted approximately $3. l 5M for GA Emergency Housing in SFY18. Of that amount, it is our hope that we can continue to invest $1.5M in community-based projects.

With your help, we have made a few tough decisions and are faced with more on how to best help vulnerable Vermonters within the funds available. We are committed to investing GA funds in community investments that have demonstrated significant savings to the GA budget, specifically warming shelters. In some instances, GA investments have not yielded significant savings and we have chosen to end those projects. In addition, we have notified a number of community partners operating projects with GA funding that DCF is only able to commit three-months of funding at this time. While these projects include worthwhile approaches – such as specific supports for victims of domestic violence, master lease emergency apartments for families, and expanded shelter capacity – these investments did not yield the level of GA savings anticipated in the past year. These projects have shown strong outcomes for those served by intentionally having more flexibility to meet the needs of homeless Vermonters. We very much want to continue funding these programs as we appreciate their contribution to addressing homelessness.

With this memo, we would like to enlist your input on ways that we might proceed. Specifically, we are considering the options below to address the anticipated FYI 8 budget shortfall. It is our hope that we can extend our three-month commitment to a full year of funding for the programs referenced earlier in this memo:

  • modifying the length and scope of GA benefits;
  • calibrating the ‘adverse weather events’ to be a narrow exception to the eligibility rules (the . legislature eliminated the ‘Cold Weather Exception’ replacing it with ‘Adverse Weather Events’); and
  • seeking assistance in creating cost effective warming shelters in Barre and Rutland this winter.

Data overview:

Attached, you will find unduplicated GA emergency housing utilization year-to-date data for FYI 7 and the GA expenditure data for FY16 and FY17. The expenditure data is broken out by ESD district and includes spending on motels as well as on GA Community Investments. Overall the spending on GA emergency housing has increased from $4,011,326 to $4,371,650. It is worth remembering that this past winter was colder than the previous, resulting in more cold weather exception (CWE) nights during FY17.

In addition to the GA usage data described above, please also find last year’s list of GA investment projects. As local Continua of Care discuss the challenges presented, providers are encouraged to share demographic and utilization data to help inform local discussions.

Opportunities for input this summer and beyond:

We welcome your input and ideas for how we might proceed. If the decision is to modify the GA rules (applies to changes to eligibility or benefit scope for the vulnerable or catastrophic categories), this will happen through its own process of public comment and legislative approval. Partners will be able to participate in these processes. In the meantime, we would like to hear from you at this early stage in the process. Here are some meeting opportunities and an option to provide input in writing:

  1. Survey Monkey – we will put out a link you can forward to your staff and partners for their input.
  2. Members of the DCF Housing team will be attending the following regularly occurring meetings:
    1. VT Coalition to End Homelessness (attended June 20, 2017)
    2. Vermont Council on Homelessness (attended June 20, 2017)
    3. Chittenden Homeless Alliance (July 6, 2017)
    4. Affordable Housing Coalition (July 12, 2017)

We are happy to attend these meetings more than once and/or arrange for an additional opportunity for input. Also, please free to connect any members of the DCF Housing Team with questions or to discuss your thoughts and suggestions. Thank you.

DCF Housing Team
Commissioner’s Office:
Ken Schatz, Commissioner
Karen Vastine, Senior Advisor to the Commissioner
Economic Services Division:
Sean Brown, Deputy Commissioner
Richard Donahey, Operations Director
Geoffrey Pippenger, GA Program Chief
Office of Economic Opportunity:
Sarah Phillips, Director
Emily Higgins, Community Services Program Administrator