Barriers to Benefits: A Forum with State Auditor Bump

Barriers to Benefits roundtable w Auditor Bump

On Wednesday, June 7, 2017 St. Francis House convened a roundtable with Massachusetts State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump, City of Boston agencies and homeless service providers to discuss current difficulties to access or maintain existing State benefits. The forum closed with recommendations on institutional barriers to resolve and improve use of taxpayer dollars to help individuals move out of poverty and homelessness.

Comprised of three segments, the half-day program offered a multitude of perspectives.

Chat: Firsthand Experiences with Barriers

First, a group of ten men and women met with Auditor Bump and her staff for coffee and morning pastries to share their firsthand experiences in navigating their benefits. Participants provided diverse perspectives as presently or formerly homeless individuals striving to become independent, financially stable and housed individuals.

Presentation: Laila Bernstein, Boston’s Way Home

As Advisor to the Mayor for the Initiative to End Chronic Homelessness in the City of Boston, Laila Bernstein presented on the City of Boston Action Plan to end Veteran and Chronic Homelessness. Ms. Bernstein shared how the action plan established a coordinated client-centered strategy for individuals who are currently experiencing homelessness.

Together, the City of Boston has successfully ended chronic homelessness among Veterans in Boston and is now focused on ending chronic homelessness. Calibrating preventative support helps end long-term homelessness and lower public costs of jails, hospitals and crisis interventions.

Roundtable: Homeless Service Providers

Over lunch, service provider staff discussed critical hindrances they face in the system on behalf of their clients. Participants represented Boston Public Health Commission, Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, Pine Street Inn, Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, the Boston Veterans Administration, and New England Center and Home for Veterans.

Staff also shared stories about the difficulties clients face in trying to become financially stable and independent individuals. Arbitrary financial cut-off limits to qualify for certain benefits could increase risk of homelessness. For example, an individual receiving a $0.50 per hour raise from the minimum wage could lose a significant portion of crucial benefits they had previously relied on to help stretch their extremely limited budgets and maintain housing. This catch-22 deters the State, homeless service providers and individuals working hard to move out of poverty and homelessness.

Auditor Bump departed better aware with actionable suggestions to improve access to benefits and management of public resources.