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POAH applauds Senate sponsors of Family Self Sufficiency Act

June 15, 2017

POAH today applauded legislation filed by four US senators that makes key improvements in HUD’s Family Self Sufficiency program (FSS), which is helping residents at POAH properties to lift themselves out of poverty.

Two of the sponsors of the bipartisan Family Self Sufficiency Act - U.S. Senators Roy Blunt (MO) and Jack Reed (RI) - represent states where POAH has active FSS programs. Both senators have been longtime supporters of the program.

“The FSS program helps families enrolled in housing voucher or public housing programs increase their earnings, build savings, and make progress toward self-sufficiency. The Act would improve the FSS program by permanently consolidating duplicative programs, broadening services that can be provided to a participant, and authorizing the extension of the program to tenants who live in privately-owned properties with project-based assistance,” according to Senator’s Blunt’s press release.

The bill would make four key changes:

  • Permanently expand eligibility for FSS to residents of privately-owned properties receiving Project-based Rental Assistance (PBRA);
  • Spur innovation in the FSS program by allowing HUD to set aside 5% of the funding made available for program coordinator costs to expand FSS programs with strong outcomes and innovative program design and partnership models;
  • Improve the program’s efficiency and impact by streamlining the program’s administration and implementing performance based funding metrics; and
  • Increase substantially the number of families able to participate in FSS through increased funding for FSS coordinators and allowing private owners to draw on reserve funds.

The FSS program is part of POAH’s Community Impact Program, a portfolio-wide approach that mobilizes every site team towards shared goals with residents and community partners in six areas: Housing, Community Engagement, Health, Education, Employment and Financial Stability.

Exceeding five year goal in 16 months

POAH is partnering with Compass Working Capital, a nonprofit that empowers families to build savings and financial capacity, to provide coaching and life-changing savings opportunities for eligible residents.

In its first 16 months, FSS has served 114 households at six POAH properties representing 31% of eligible households, far exceeding the 5% average national enrollment rate. FSS has created over $37,000 in total escrow funds and among participants annual income has increased by an average of $2,000.

“At POAH, we believe that access to affordable, safe, and healthy housing is a powerful tool in taking on the challenge of poverty but affordable housing is only one part of the solution, said POAH President/CEO Aaron Gornstein.  “We applaud Senators Blunt, Reed, Menendez and Scott for this proactive legislation that will help more of our residents achieve financial independence.”

“[The Act] is a commonsense step we can take to improve the FSS program and enhance support for people in Missouri and across the country who are working hard to create a better future for themselves and their families,” said Senator Blunt in a press release.

“It provides a roadmap to stability and links them to critical support services to get there, like help with education, job-training, or childcare so individuals can support their families,” said Senator Reed. “Ultimately, it empowers people to gain marketable skills, improve their job prospects, and sets them on a path towards greater economic independence and self-sufficiency.”

About the bill:

Congress has included the expansion to privately owned properties and administrative streamlining as part of annual appropriations bills. It is important to make these changes permanent, however, by incorporating them in the statute that governs the FSS program, in order to ensure that the policy changes will remain in place and to encourage more private owners to initiate FSS programs. Congressional action is also needed to achieve the other goals.

Adopted by Congress as part of the National Affording Housing Act of 1990 (also known as the Cranston-Gonzalez Act), the FSS program was proposed by HUD during Jack Kemp’s tenure as Secretary and has always had strong bipartisan support. FSS has the potential to support hundreds of thousands of low-income families living in federally subsidized housing to increase their income, reduce their use of public assistance, and build savings, thereby enabling these families to move up and out of poverty and contribute to economic growth.

How FSS Works

The FSS program combines three key components in order to incentivize work and help participants build savings: stable affordable housing, one-on-one coaching or case management to help participants achieve their employment and financial goals, and an escrow savings account tied to rental payments.  The escrow account functions as follows: as with all participants in HUD rental assistance programs, the rents of FSS participants usually increase as their earnings increase.

However, FSS participants who increase their earnings are eligible to capture this corresponding increase in rent in an escrow account, held by the housing authority or a private owner. FSS participants can use the funds in their escrow accounts toward their employment and financial goals – common uses include education, job training, or responsible homeownership – if they have met the conditions of graduation. In order to graduate, the FSS participant must be employed and have achieved the goals they defined when they enrolled in the program, and no one in the household can be receiving temporary cash assistance (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF).

photo: staff of the Community Services League in Hawthorne Place

Read more about POAH Communities’ Community Impact Program on the Community Impact page