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Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed October 2022

Emergency Assistance (EA) is the Massachusetts program providing emergency shelter and re-housing services for homeless families with children.

In 2009, the Massachusetts Legislature transferred responsibility for administering EA from the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) to the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities (EOHLC). In state fiscal year 2012, the Patrick-Murray Administration first implemented a program of temporary rental assistance, household assistance, and moving assistance called HomeBASE as an alternative to emergency shelter. For fiscal year 2023, HomeBASE provides up to $20,000 over 24 months for household assistance or moving assistance to help EA-eligible families obtain housing instead of shelter, or to exit emergency shelter for housing. This is an increase over the prior maximum award of $10,000 over 12 months.

In fiscal year 2013, strict new eligibility criteria were implemented for the EA program, forcing many families – including children – to sleep in cars, parks, emergency rooms, and other dangerous places before being eligible for shelter. See Out in the Cold, an MLRI policy paper. In fiscal year 2020, the Legislature amended the EA budget language to say that families should be placed “but for having spent 1 night” in a place not meant for human habitation. In the intervening years, however, EOHLC has not issued any policy guidance to clarify how this is being implemented, and families in this precarious situation still report being denied shelter despite having no place to go.

Families that are denied shelter are not guaranteed any other assistance, although they can apply for the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program. In previous years RAFT was capped at $4,000 but during the COVID-19 crisis the Legislature increased the to $10,000/year. See Question 22. After being set at $7,000 for the second half of fiscal year 2022, the budget for fiscal year 2023 increased the RAFT cap back to $10,000.

EOHLC strongly encourages families to apply for EA by telephone, with limited access for families seeking to apply in-person. The Legislature requires that families experiencing homelessness be able to apply for EA in person, but EOHLC has had limited staff on-site in local offices since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020. Appendix A of this Guide includes the locations of the joint EOHLC/DTA offices where EOHLC staff normally are taking applications as well as the telephone number for families to apply remotely. Appendix B includes the names, phone numbers and fax numbers of the EOHLC staff at various offices.

The EA regulations refer to some DTA regulations that apply to the Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children program (TAFDC, the family cash assistance program), including those that govern counting of income. The DTA regulations are available online.

The EA, HomeBASE, and related DTA regulations are cited in this Guide. Some regulations may change, so always check to be sure you have the most up-to-date version of the regulations and rules.

Also be sure to check the EOHLC website for updated information: Emergency Housing Assistance Programs, EA Resources, and Housing Stabilization Notices. You may also check the EA section of the MassLegalServices website, where you can review historical EA policy materials from DTA and EOHLC, which may help you make arguments about how EOHLC should interpret the regulations.

If you think you are eligible for EA but have problems getting services, or if you receive a notice from EOHLC saying your EA or HomeBASE services are being terminated or that you have been found to have violated EA shelter or HomeBASE rules, you may want to consult a legal advocate. Appendix C: Legal Services Intake Lines for EA/HomeBASE Issues includes a list of legal services offices that may be able to help you. Contact the office in your local area.

HomeBASE and RAFT are administered by several regional nonprofit housing organizations under contract with EOHLC. A list of those organizations can be found in Appendix D: HomeBASE and RAFT Administering Agencies.

If you are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of homelessness and need help finding new housing or staying in your housing, you can also contact the regional housing agencies for your area listed in Appendix E: Regional Non-Profits Administering Other Housing Services.

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