What’s in the Mayor’s Proposed Budgets for the Department of Human Services?

On Monday, the Mayor released a proposed revised budget, also known as a supplemental budget, for the current fiscal year (FY) 2020, and a proposed budget for FY 2021. This blog post outlines what DCFPI knows about the Department of Human Services (DHS) budgets at this time. This analysis will be updated as we learn more.

FY 2020 Supplemental Budget

The supplemental FY 2020 budget adds $12 million to the Family ReHousing and Stabilization Program (FRSP), the program that provides time-limited case management and rental assistance. DC suspended terminations from FRSP starting in March to prevent evictions due to the pandemic, allowing families to stay in the program for longer periods—but also leading to increased costs.

FY 2021 Budget Summary

The total proposed FY 2021 budget for DHS is $596 million, with the local portion totaling $407 million. Both the total budget and the local budget are a one percent decrease from the approved FY 2020 budget, when adjusted for inflation. While DHS only faced minor cuts compared to other agencies, the budget lacks sufficient resources for the housing and services that homeless residents need to thrive.

On the expansion side, the agency faces two large spending pressures. Fixed costs, such as leasing, have increased by $8.7 million, and $6.4 million is needed to cover increased staff costs. The proposal funds these needs. On the savings side, the proposed budget anticipates that DHS will be able to negotiate $11 million in savings in contracts and grants across homeless services that total $150 million. Nearly $1.6 million of this savings is in youth services. It is not clear at this time how this will affect existing services.

DHS pays the DC Housing Authority (DCHA) an administrative fee to manage DHS vouchers and Rapid ReHousing rental payments. DHS was able to negotiate this rate down from 8 percent to 6 percent, leading to additional savings.

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) local budget remains flat at $7.9 million, but the Mayor plans to supplement these funds with additional federal dollars.[1] ERAP helps residents facing eviction pay for overdue rent and related legal costs. The program also provides security deposits and the first month’s rent for residents moving into new homes. To meet the higher need for rental assistance due to COVID-19 driven economic hardships, the agency plans to use the additional federal funding for housing and homeless services to supplement the local ERAP budget.

The budget replaces $1.32 million in one-time funding that was allocated in the FY 2020 for shelter beds for Transition Age Youth (TAY), youth aged 18 to 24, with another one-time allocation, ensuring that the beds will remain open through FY 2021.

FY 2021 Homeless Services Enhancements

The budget adds $2 million to pay for hotel rooms used as family shelters. DHS had anticipated that they would no longer need hotels in FY 2021, but there have been delays in opening the Short-Term Family Housing buildings. In addition, families are staying in shelters longer because it is more difficult to move out during the current public health emergency.

The budget adds $7.8 million for operating costs at the new Short-Term Family Housing buildings. Some of these buildings were only open for part of FY 2020, so the operating budget for FY 2021 reflects an increase to account for a full year of operations. The budget also increases to support the Ward 1 shelter that will open in FY 2021.

The budget adds $11.7 million for FRSP. This funding is to cover the longer lengths of stay mentioned above and to implement some of the recommendations of the FRSP Task Force.

The budget adds $200,000 to expand the Homeless Prevention Program (HPP), which works to keep families at imminent risk of losing housing from becoming homeless through the provision of stabilizing services and resources.

The proposed budget includes nearly $5 million for Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) for 54 families and 96 individuals. PSH provides long-term housing and case management to residents facing chronic homelessness who would otherwise have difficulty remaining housed. Just over $1.5 million of this funding covers case management and is in the DHS budget and the remainder covers rental costs and is in the DCHA budget. This falls far short of the need. The Way Home campaign, which works to end chronic homelessness, asked for 1,500 slots of PSH for individuals and 302 for families.

FY 2021 Homeless Services with Reduced Budgets

The budget reduces funding for Project Reconnect by $1.2 million. Project Reconnect helps individuals who are newly homeless find alternatives to shelter such as reuniting with friends and families. DHS reports fewer individuals than anticipated have enrolled in Project Reconnect than anticipated, so they are reducing the budget for FY 2021.

The budget does not replace $2.1 million in one-time funding that lawmakers allocated to street outreach services in FY 2020. Street outreach provides critical services to residents who do not stay in shelters. Outreach is particularly critical during this pandemic as workers monitor the health of homeless residents and help meet their medical and other needs. Residents are more dependent on these services now because many daytime service centers are closed because of the pandemic. DHS reports they hope to partner with the Department of Behavioral Health to replace some of these services with local or federal funding.

Homeless Services Capital Budget

The capital budget includes $36 million to replace the Harriet Tubman Women’s Shelter with a new shelter building.[2] It also includes $2 million to retrofit a District facility to be used as a hypothermia shelter for 100 individuals as a currently used facility will not be available in FY 2022, and $1.7 million for small capital projects at 3 family shelters.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

The proposed budget preserves the scheduled Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which provides them cash assistance so they can afford basic needs. COLAs help benefits keep pace with inflation.[3]

The proposed budget reduces the Program on Work Employment and Responsibility (POWER) by $2.1 million to account for a drop in enrollment in recent years. POWER serves TANF families whose head of household is unable to meet program requirements due to incapacity, such as a physical health, mental health, or a substance abuse problem. This reduction reflects the current, reduced caseload.

The budget includes $10 million in one-time funding and eliminates several small TANF programs—including the Family to Family program, the UDC Paving Access Trails for Higher Security (PATHS) program, and Tuition Assistance Program Initiative for TANF (TAPIT)—to pay for cash benefits for an expanding TANF caseload. Family to Family is a program in which a TANF family receives mentoring from another family. PATHS offers a sixteen-week job skills experience: eight weeks of intensive instruction in workplace-oriented math and English followed by an eight week career-specific internship program. TAPIT is a scholarship program for a two- or four-year degree. DHS reports that TAPIT is not needed as there are other aid programs that families can access. DCFPI is looking forward to hearing from partners and TANF parents about the level of quality of these programs.

The budget anticipates that the agency will have $5.2 million less in federal TANF carryover in FY 2021 than in FY 2020. Due to a bump in caseloads and increased costs in homeless services for families, the agency spent more of its TANF funding in recent years.

[1] The FY 2021 Proposed Budget and Financial Plan mistakenly reported that one-time funding that was allocated in the FY 2020 budget was not replaced in the FY 2021 budget. The Mayor’s Budget Director reports that the soon-to-be-released budget errata letter will correct this error.

[2] The FY 2021 Proposed Budget and Financial Plan mistakenly calls this Permanent Supportive Housing for Senior Women.

[3] The FY 2021 Proposed Budget and Financial Plan mistakenly reported that the COLA was removed. The Mayor’s Budget Director reports that the soon-to-be-released budget errata letter will correct this error.