Emergency Family Stabilization Act (S. 220)

U.S. Senate bill: S. 220 — Emergency Family Stabilization Act, introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)

Committees:

Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions

Status:

In a related action, Senator Murkowski successfully offered an amendment to the American Rescue Plan Act to use $800,000,000 of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund to identify and provide homeless children and youth with wrap-around services in light of the challenges of COVID-19 and other assistance.

Impact

The Alliance supports the Emergency Family Stabilization Act (S. 220). 

The bill would authorize $800 million to be awarded competitively by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to enable local agencies and organizations, including local educational agencies, to assist children, youth, families, single pregnant women, and survivors of dating violence, domestic violence and trafficking impacted by homelessness and insecure housing during the COVID-19 crisis. 

The bill would direct the Secretary to prioritize, in awarding of grants, the use of funds to “provide emergency relief to youth, children, and families experiencing homelessness who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason.” The funds can be used to respond to a wide range of critical support needs of children, youth and families including, but not limited to, the following.

• Eviction prevention assistance, motel/hotel placements, housing placement support, security deposits, and utility connections.
• Assistance to meet the basic needs of children, youth, families and vulnerable adults in crisis, including food, clothing, medical, and dental care.
• Provision of supportive services including mental and behavioral health services, transportation assistance, mentorship, and services to attain educational and employment goals.

The Alliance strongly endorses equipping community-based organizations, including Tribal organizations and local educational agencies, with resources to meet the urgent housing and support needs of the children, youth and families experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic. While HUD-funded homeless assistance programs serve thousands of children, youth and families each year, those resources are typically directed to people who lack any safe housing options and who are forced to enter shelter or unsheltered living situations. HHS-funded organizations and local educational agencies that are on the frontline of working with disadvantaged and vulnerable populations are uniquely poised to assist their clients before their housing situations worsens, however, they often lack the tools to do so.  This bill would change that.

HUD-funded homeless assistance programs serve families, youth, and children
The Alliance has been pleased to work with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development(HUD), Continua of Care, and providers of homelessness services across the nation to  maximize the value of that department’s homelessness assistance programs for families, youth, and children. On any given night, HUD-funded programs assist over 300,000 children and parents in emergency shelter, transitional housing, or living unsheltered in cars, campgrounds, or in other places not intended for human habitation.

On each night, HUD Emergency Shelter Grants (ESG) and Continuum of Care (CoC) resources are also helping an additional 290,000 formerly homeless individuals in families stabilize in their own permanent housing, primarily with Rapid Re-housing and Permanent Supportive Housing.

Between 2015-2019, HUD homeless assistance program investments resulted in tremendous growth in frontline organizations’ capacity to respond to youth experiencing homelessness, including LGBTQ youth pushed out of their homes. Temporary housing options (emergency shelter, transitional housing and safe havens) dedicated to youth at a point-in-time increased over those four years as has investments in tools to connect youth to permanent housing. Rapid Re-housing for youth grew by over 650% and Permanent Supportive Housing by 45% over a four-year period. On any given night, there are nearly 24,000 youth receiving services to stabilize in their own permanent housing with support from HUD programs.

Despite tremendous progress in ramping up interventions for children, youth, and families, it is simply not enough. The Alliance estimates that homeless service providers can provide dedicated re-housing assistance to approximately 41 percent of families that stay in shelter each year and youth, particularly LGBTQ youth, have extraordinarily high rates of unsheltered homelessness. Local HUD-funded homeless service systems are making progress in ending homelessness for the hundreds of thousands of people they serve each year, but they still have a long way to go. They are also serving only a small segment of children, youth and families with housing needs.

Beyond the scope of HUD-funded homeless assistance programs
Over the course of the 2017-2018 school year, homeless school liaisons identified nearly 1.12 million children and youth living in doubled up situations, living with a friend or extended family to manage housing costs. The Alliance estimates that in 2018, nearly 4 million poor Americans, including school age children and youth, lived in doubled up situations to manage housing costs. Another 6.5 million poor Americans faced severe housing cost burdens, paying more than 50 percent of their income for rent.

High housing costs, overcrowded and unstable doubled up situations, and high levels of housing mobility result from the national failure to invest in housing that low-income families can afford. The consequent stressors caused by the lack of affordable housing can have severe consequences for America’s children. It can negatively impact their early development, academic performance and safety. People in families who pay too much for housing may regularly skimp on other necessities such as medicine and food. Parents and youth may stay in abusive relationships because they fear the alternative—staying in a shelter or experiencing unsheltered homelessness. These children and vulnerable adults may never enter a shelter or spend a night outdoors, but their lack of decent, affordable housing to call their own can take an enormous toll on their well-being.

These vulnerable people often have helping professionals in their lives: a domestic violence counselor, a Head Start worker, a child development specialist, an employment specialist at the local welfare office, a child welfare staff person, or a caring person in their school or pre-school program. Many of them may turn to the caseworkers or other professionals in their lives to seek assistance to address their housing needs. In most situations, these helping professionals have little to offer.  The Emergency Family Stabilization Act, would give them the tools to respond.

Helping Frontline Organizations Provide a Housing Safety Net
The Emergency Family Stabilization Act would equip organizations on the frontline of serving vulnerable children, youth and families with funding to meet the urgent needs of the people they serve facing a housing crisis.  This bill would fund organizations that provide frontline aid to survivors of domestic violence and trafficking, runaway and homeless youth, low-income families with young children and residents of historically underserved communities, including Tribal Nations. With resources provided under this Act, many vulnerable youth and families would receive help to stay in their housing, to stabilize safely in doubled up situations, or receive assistance to secure new housing.  A key benefit of the Act is the reliance of established organizations that have pre-existing relationships with the very individuals and families they will serve. With a trusting relationship already in place, these entities can use the new resources to develop and deploy evidence-based responses to those with the most urgent housing needs. This may include LGBTQ couch-surfing youth who regularly visit a drop-in center for homeless youth, a young parent of a child in Head Start programs who is being forced out of a doubled up situation, the family of a young student struggling in school due to constant moves from one unstable housing setting to the next, and a survivor of violence or trafficking seeking safe housing options for herself and her child. Investing resources in programs that vulnerable people already rely on can facilitate early intervention with people in crisis and prevent further spirals into homelessness.

Conclusion
The Alliance strongly believes that human service organizations should be equipped to provide holistic assistance to the people they serve, and that includes providing help to stabilize their clients’ housing. To that end, HHS should expect the agencies they fund to be on the frontline of working to end homelessness for the people they serve, and the Alliance believes the Emergency Family Stabilization Act would help to realize that goal.

Note: In a related action, Senator Murkowski successfully offered an amendment to the American Rescue Plan Act to use $800,000,000 of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund to identify and provide homeless children and youth with wrap-around services in light of the challenges of COVID-19 and other assistance.

Summary

The Alliance supports the Emergency Family Stabilization Act (S. 220).  The legislation would authorize $800 million to be awarded competitively by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to enable local agencies and organizations, including local educational agencies, to assist children, youth, families, single pregnant women, and survivors of dating violence, domestic violence and trafficking impacted by homelessness and insecure housing during the COVID-19 crisis.  

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