When our Benefits Legal Assistance team spots opportunities to increase access to resources for people living in poverty, they push for better laws. Last week attorney Katie Scott was in Olympia talking about changes in laws most people have not heard much about that will make big changes for the people they work with. SB 6116, for instance, would clarify that people determined to be eligible for the Housing & Essential Needs (HEN) program actually receive the benefits.
Here is Katie’s testimony before a hearing of the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee:
“Good afternoon. My name is Katie Scott and I am a Public Benefits Attorney at Solid Ground in King County. I am here in support of Senate Bill 6116, which would require that those who are determined to be eligible for the Housing and Essential Needs program by DSHS actually receive the benefits of this program.
“This may seem like a no-brainer – and it is. In my work with people struggling with homelessness and disability, access to the HEN program is the best tool we have to quite literally change someone’s life. HEN provides monthly rent and utility assistance in a way that is efficient and flexible; provides transportation assistance that helps HEN recipients get to important appointments, job training and schooling; and provides hygiene and cleaning products that my clients can’t afford.
“Once someone jumps through all the hoops to actually qualify for a referral to the program, it is devastating when they cannot access it. Those who qualify should be assured the assistance.” ~Katie Scott, Public Benefits Attorney
“I have many clients who were able to access housing through this program after struggling with homelessness for many years, and others who have avoided homelessness thanks to a timely HEN referral. Doctors write letters to DSHS pleading for their patients to receive a referral, since no one can recover from an injury or deal with mental illness or stabilize a chronic condition on the streets.
“HEN and Aged, Blind & Disabled cases make up about 30% of my caseload. It’s a high number because the real challenge is actually proving that someone qualifies for the program. The regulations are complicated and require very specific medical evaluations and evidence. Once someone jumps through all the hoops to actually qualify for a referral to the program, it is devastating when they cannot access it. Those who qualify should be assured the assistance.
“We are clearly dealing with a homelessness crisis in Seattle and King County, but it is also an issue throughout the state. The best way to deal with homelessness is to house people – and stable housing is the only way to address the root causes of homelessness, which is the only way to prevent people from becoming homeless in the future. There is no shortcut or easy fix to homelessness, but the first step is housing. We need to use every tool we have to increase housing stability for our most vulnerable populations, and HEN is one of the best. I urge you to support SB 6116.”
SB 6116 is in the Senate Committee on Human Services and Corrections and is not currently scheduled for any additional action.