By J. Deveaux
At its public oversight roundtable on the winter plan, on October 14, 2009 in the Wilson Building, the DC Committee on Human Services heard testimony from the Department of Human Services (DHS), legal consultants, shelter providers and homeless individuals affected by budgeting for the upcoming hypothermia season, beginning in November 2009.
The projected funding for programs that serve and house the homeless is less than adequate, according to DC council member and chairman of the Committee on Human Services Tommy Wells .
Wells estimated that the need for funding this year would exceed $50 million. However, the cap for this year is $38.5 million. In July, at another committee meeting on the capacity of shelters, Clarence Carter, director of DHS, said there would be only a 2% reduction in funding for this hypothermia season; however, there is a $12.5 million reduction in spending.
“It seems like you’re going to need $65 million,” Wells said. “DHS received $50 million from the federal government
last year. Could you clarify what the $50 million was broken down into?”
Carter said that DHS received $38.5 million from the federal government for general funding homeless services and $12.5 million in To Assist Needy Families (TANF) dollars.
“The $12.5 million in TANF money can only be expended on cash payments to TANF families,” he said.
In September DHS sent out a memo that notified shelters of possible budget cuts that would occur before hypothermia
Spending will be capped at $38.5 million this year, according to DHS, and the $12.5 million in TANF money will be allocated to spending for other things not associated with homeless services.
If they find a way to get the TANF dollars back, which go to building capacity of families to get off TANF, they cannot spend more than $15 million.
“This commitment is not going to meet the needs of this year, even if DHS does find a way to fully meet the need this winter,” said Nassim Moshiree, staff attorney at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. “Come April 1 hundreds of people stand to lose services. It is important that the $12 million will be refunded to services.”
Families in the District are unclear as to whether or not TANF dollars will be available this year and when they may be available, according to Wells.
“We will know before hypothermia season starts.” Carter said, regarding the six week wait period to identify funds in sister agencies such as the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness. “First, we will have to identify funds in our sister agencies. We will know that within the next six weeks. Then we have to certify these amounts to the federal government and that certification process takes about 60 days.”
According to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese, funding for their emergency shelters and year-round shelters was put into question after the winter plan. They have been in negotiations with the Community Partnership about fulfilling shelter requirements over the past week.
Spending for TANF dollars and the general budget for spending on homeless services is unclear, according to Michael Brown, at-large councilmember of the Committee on Human Services.
“There are new issues with the budget for fiscal year 2010,” Brown said. “There are several places where it is ambiguous. What mechanisms are in place in case of an emergency? What mechanisms does the DHS use to get this money?”
The Economic Recovery Act of 2009, a law that has put less restriction on what the DHS can do with government funding, created a TANF contingency fund.
“These are one-time-use-only dollars given by the federal government to provide $46 million,” Carter said.
A major concern with providers is capacity. Shelters have experienced an increase of 10% in the need for beds even before the beginning of hypothermia season.
The overflow capacity anticipated by the DHS and the winter plan may not meet the need after November 1, according to Mary Ann Luby, outreach worker at the Washington Legal Clinic.
“Homeless services and activities have been underfunded for years. We need money in the front end of the system in order to eliminate homelessness. We could have gotten rid of homelessness years ago, if this would have happened,” Luby said.
According to Regine Clermont, the division director of housing and support for the Catholic Charities, funding has been found for the emergency shelters during hypothermia season. Catholic Charities is working with the Community Partnership to negotiate the spending for the rest of the year and other emergency programs.
“The most important thing is that the Community Partners responded so promptly to the outcry of the public,” Clermont said.
In addition to concerns about the winter plan there are also questions about where money is going to come from for the rest of the year, if the entire year’s budget is spent on the five month span from November 1 to March 1, according to Patricia Mullahy Fugere, executive director of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.
“There is still a lot of confusing information coming from the District government,” says Fugere. “We are concerned that enough capacity will be added to the system for winter. I’m afraid that we will have a long string of days of cold later in November and there will not be enough room in the shelters. There seems to be no certainty.”