When we last updated you on the proposed Homeless Services Reform Amendment Act of 2017, the Committee on Human Services mark-up had been abruptly canceled on September 20, and next steps were unclear.  Since then, the Committee has been trying to come to agreement on some serious concerns of some of the members. If they can come to such an agreement, the bill will get enough votes to move it out of committee to the full Council for a vote.

We wanted to take this opportunity to return to our series on what’s in the bill. Today we will go over the Mayor’s proposal to “re-determine eligibility” of people in homeless services.

The Mayor’s proposal

“The Mayor may redetermine the eligibility of an individual or family receiving services within the Continuum of Care at any time if new or relevant information becomes available to the Mayor regarding the individual or family’s eligibility or the Mayor learns of changed circumstances which makes the individual or family no longer eligible for program assistance.”

The Mayor’s bill also reduces due process rights by taking away the right to fair hearing at the Office of Administrative Hearings upon appealing an unfavorable redetermination of eligibility, and removing the right to stay in shelter or housing while the appeal is pending.

Good News/Bad News

The Committee on Human Services seems committed to restoring due process for these determinations, which is certainly good news. However, no amount of due process cures the potential harm resulting from an overly broad or vague standard. We have not heard any compelling justification for the Administration to have this much power to terminate people from programs for “no longer being eligible”—no evidence of pervasive fraud in the system or shelter residents who have housing but for some reason choose to stay in emergency shelters.

We agree with the Administration that recertification is necessary in some scenarios, and could result in the transfer of participants to more appropriate programs in the Continuum of Care.  For example, youth who age out of a program, and families who no longer have children with them could be better served in other programs besides the one they initially entered. We’ve drafted language to accommodate this narrow, but reasonable, policy goal, and have shared it with the Committee.

However, the standard proposed by the Administration is quite different than any other recertification standard. No other public benefits program has such a vague standard for re-determining eligibility. Also, no other public benefit refers to initial eligibility criteria in order to evaluate continued eligibility. Most programs assume that income and circumstances of individuals can vary significantly from week to week, and that it does not do anyone any good to terminate people from programs if they will just become eligible again next week. Finally, no other public benefit program re-determines eligibility without any time constraints. (Almost all public benefit programs have a recertification period of at least a year, up to 6 years in some Social Security Disability cases.)

In what parts of the continuum would the Mayor apply this tool?

In housing programs? Many housing programs already have a recertification process through another agency. People who have Targeted Affordable Housing (TAH) and Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) recertify through the DC Housing Authority. Other housing programs are time-limited or regularly assessed, such as Rapid Re-Housing and transitional housing. Housing programs should be exempt. The Administration has stated that it wouldn’t use this tool to terminate people from what should be a permanent housing subsidy, such as PSH. If that’s the case, then we see no reason for them to pursue authority they don’t intend to use.

In emergency shelter? There are thousands of people in emergency shelters, and many shelters are very short staffed. This makes it administratively impossible and very expensive to adopt a recertification process for all emergency shelter residents. Because of this, if the Administration were to succeed in getting this proposal passed, they would have a very difficult time applying the new standard evenly across the board. This increases the risk of arbitrary or discriminatory decision-making. In addition, people in low barrier shelters already reapply on a nightly basis (but without requirement of documentation), so for youth and singles in those shelters, it doesn’t make sense to require recertification. Imposing a higher burden on people contradicts the purpose of having shelters that do not demand proof of eligibility at the front door: to serve people who might otherwise sleep outside.

In temporary shelters, eligibility generally depends on whether an applicant is: 1) a family or single, 2) a DC resident, and 3) homeless. We’ve already agreed that families who no longer have children with them can be transferred to a more appropriate setting. We assume we would all agree that living in a DC shelter is pretty strong evidence of DC residency. That leaves us with whether someone is homeless who resides in a temporary shelter. Because the proposed definition of homelessness includes anyone who lives in a shelter, all residents of shelters will be homeless by definition.

The Administration may want this tool because they are claiming that there are people in shelter who don’t really need shelter because they have somewhere else to stay. The previous Administration and this Administration made this argument before— first for Provisional Placement (twice rejected by Council) and then Interim Eligibility (which passed in 2015, albeit in a much different form than introduced). We supported the language in the final Interim Eligibility bill because we understand that it can be difficult to get complete information at intake and Interim Eligibility contains many protections for clients. For instance: 1) any alternative housing placement has to be available for at least 14 days; 2) the housing has to be safe; 3) the placement cannot jeopardize a host’s tenancy; and 4) the person has a right to return to shelter if the placement falls through. None of these protections exist in the Mayor’s proposal for re-determining eligibility, which can be applied at any time to shelter residents who have already been found eligible.

Where we stand

We fundamentally reject any implication that there are significant numbers of shelter residents who have available, safe, and stable housing but are choosing to remain in emergency shelter. Shelters and housing programs are already places where vast gaps in power between residents and providers create serious problems and potential for abuse. We regularly hear stories of families requesting weekend passes from shelter to leave and visit family members, only to be met with accusations by shelter providers that the family must not really need shelter if family members are able to host them for a weekend.  If the Administration can demonstrate a problem, with data, that can be solved by re-determining eligibility, we are open to a solution that is specific and carries appropriate protections for clients. Otherwise, we oppose this proposal.

 What can you do?

  • Email! Use this “one-click” email action, or just use the email addresses below to share your concerns.
  • Call! Call the Committee members (numbers below).
  • Tweet! Tweet your concerns about this bill. We’re using the hashtag #VoteNoHSRABill.
Council Member Phone Email Twitter handle
Brianne Nadeau 202-724-8181 bnadeau@dccouncil.us @BrianneKNadeau
Brandon Todd 202-724-8052 btodd@dccouncil.us @CMBrandonTodd
Trayon White 202-724-8045 twhite@dccouncil.us @trayonwhite
Robert White 202-724-8174 rwhite@dccouncil.us @RobertWhite_DC
David Grosso 202-724-8105 dgrosso@dccouncil.us @cmdgrosso