Our April Town Hall (click here for more on the Town Hall Series) featured a look at the American Rescue Plan passed by the 117th US Congress and signed into law on March 11, 2021 by President Joe Biden. The first speaker was Janne Huang, Outreach Campaign Strategy Manager at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (www.cbpp.org). Huang has worked over the last year to assure that low income and especially homeless people have access to direct financial assistance provided in the three COVID Relief packages passed over the last year. She began her discussion by describing the $1,400 stimulus funds and the additional resources for families as life changing for many, and so it was critical for groups to help people access to those dollars. Ms. Huang wrote an article for CBPP last year which is still relevant for the March COVID relief package:
The easiest way to help those without income access these funds are to file an IRS tax return for 2020 tax year. Those incarcerated individuals are also eligible, and you should claim everyone residing in your household to get the full benefit. The American Rescue plan also offers an advance on child tax credit that can be as much as $3,000 per child as part of your refund in 2021. The local 2-1-1 system has lists of local programs which can help individuals file their taxes for free. Agencies can get a tool kit from the IRS to help people file their taxes and can answer some common questions about the COVID relief funds. Huang described the IRS Get-My-Payment website, which can help with filing and tracking those checks. https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/get-my-payment.
There is also a process in which an agency can be trained to be a local assistance center to offer tax filing assistance. The agency can then work with clients to answer some questions, securely upload income and banking documents then the IRS will take over and assure the client gets their recovery funds. Individuals do not need a bank account either to receive the help, they can get debit cards or actual physical checks. Those just add time to the processing. The IRS has even made it possible to receive assistance through phone peer to peer payment apps like Venmo. We learned at the Town Hall that shelters in which many people are using as an address sometimes slows down the processing. Local shelters can register with the local IRS office to clear up the confusion. Also, the use of PO Boxes sometimes will slow down the processing of these payments.
Other resources for assisting someone with, or obtaining EIP payments:
- Info from the office of Congresswoman Cori Bush
- Guidance specifically for people experiencing homelessness in accessing EIPs
- Answers to frequently asked questions from the National Low Income Housing Coalition
- What is in the American Rescue Plan for low-income Americans from the White House
The other presenter was NCH Board President and Minnesota advocate, Sue Watlov Phillips who provided a broader look at the American Rescue funds and how they can be used for creating programs to assist with housing and support services. Huang’s presentation focused on the benefits for the individuals while Watlov Phillips focused on the funds available to non-profit agencies. Some of this is up in the air since the rules for use of these funds will not be released until the fall, but these are assumptions based on the past two emergency allocations from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The big difference in these funds is they do not rely on the limited definition of homelessness HUD uses in most of their programs because it includes those at risk of homelessness, domestic violence victims including those fleeing an abuser who is stalking them and veterans who may not be able to be served by the VA. Click here to find out how much your community is receiving here is the HUD site with the dollar figures for the $5 Billion in HOME program for people experiencing homelessness.
The important message here is that there is a great deal of money coming to the local community for reducing the impacts of homelessness and you need to be involved in how that money is distributed. Advocates, including people who have experienced homelessness and/or housing crises in the local community know how to best utilize these dollars, and they need to be at the table. Nearly every big city and larger metropolitan county/parish has a “continuum of care” committee which will most likely oversee how these dollars are spent. Some are managed by a local governmental body while others have a private company or non-profit which oversees the committee. There are typically social service providers, children’s programs, legal assistance programs, housing entities, advocates and typically a couple people with lived experience. They typically have public meetings and other community input. For rural communities the states take the lead in managing these funds in what is typically called “the balance of state” advisory boards. Again, these are typically public entities like housing development agencies who coordinate these groups. Get involved and push for housing over shelters. Push those entities to think broadly about the problem and do not push people down only one path. Give people experiencing homelessness dignified programs that can quickly and safely move them back to stability. We need your voice at the state and local levels to advocate for effective alternatives.
There will also be $5 Billion in Emergency Housing Vouchers which will also include a broader definition of homelessness. Public Housing Authorities will be receiving notification of this in the next 4-5 weeks, which will hopefully be facilitated on an aggressive technical assistance model.
Finally, there is a proposed 15% increase in the HUD budget for fiscal year 2022 which would hopefully be in place by October 2021.