The Value of Municipal Local Welfare
The information contained in this article is not intended as legal advice and may no longer be accurate due to changes in the law. Consult NHMA's legal services or your municipal attorney.
The New Hampshire Local Welfare Administrators Association’s Executive Board unanimously approved an Ethics Resolution Guidance Agreement to improve fair and equitable financial liability best practices and foster increased municipal government support for emergency housing sheltering, including emergency overnight winter warming centers throughout the state.
The resolution’s intent is to increase communication, collaboration, and provide guidance to municipal local welfare departments when determining residency regarding permanent and emergency housing placements from a municipality of origin into another.
The resolution guides local welfare officials not to end or avoid acquiring local welfare financial responsibility by encouraging persons not to apply for assistance or to discontinue residency in the municipality in which they currently reside. Also, local welfare officials should not require, persuade or financially assist persons to establish permanent residency in another municipality, unless the persons indicate a need and intent to move to another municipality for non-local welfare related reasons. An assessment of financial sustainability for proposed rental assistance into a new municipality should be completed by the municipality of origin to determine eligibility.
Todd Marsh, President, New Hampshire Local Welfare Administrators Association
Regarding emergency housing, the resolution reads, in part, “Persons receiving short-term emergency housing assistance (e.g., homeless shelter or motel) shall continue to maintain their legal residence in the municipality of origin, for local welfare purposes, as it existed at the time of entering the emergency housing.” The resolution further reads, “A person that leaves emergency housing of their own free will and remains in a situation of homelessness or is exited from emergency housing for non-compliance or policy violations, for local welfare purposes, remains a resident of the municipality of origin for thirty (30) days.” Additional language is included to ensure municipalities communicate and coordinate assistance options with each other, including reimbursements from municipalities of origin (RSA 165:20-a), when it is determined unreasonable for the person to physically return to the municipality of origin due to transportation, timing of need for assistance or residency is unclear.
President of the New Hampshire Local Welfare Administrators Association (NHLWAA) Todd Marsh, who also serves as the city of Rochester’s Municipal Welfare Director, explained local municipal welfare is one of the oldest legal obligations in the state of New Hampshire and intended to assist people considered poor and unable to maintain basic life living standards, including housing and utilities. Unlike forms of direct cash or food assistance provided by New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, which can be used with more discretion, municipal local welfare assistance is normally in the form of direct payments to vendors, including mortgage companies, landlords, and utility companies.
Marsh shared that although city or town residency is usually very clear due to property ownership, rental, and utility addresses; residency for people relocating into other municipalities for emergency services can be less clear and can cause municipal government hesitations to support emergency housing out of concern for added financial assistance liabilities.
Marsh believes the resolutions summer approval should assist municipalities with emergency housing decision making for the upcoming winter.
“Planning for winter emergency housing should occur when it is 85 degrees and not 45 degrees, similar to recent collaborative planning efforts in the Tri-Cities of Rochester, Somersworth, and Dover,” said Marsh. “Minimizing financial liability concerns for emergency housing host municipalities should assist with decision making.”
NHLWAA executive board member Charleen Michaud, who serves as the city of Manchester’s Welfare Director, agrees the resolution agreement should increase fairness for municipalities that host shelters and motels used for emergency housing.
“This agreement provides guidance to local welfare administrators as they navigate issues of municipal welfare liability,” said Michaud. “It should mitigate the concerns municipalities have regarding assuming financial liability for individuals and families from elsewhere who find themselves solely in a municipality for the services offered. It provides clarity and financial fairness to our cities and towns while ensuring the humanitarian purpose of RSA 165 is carried out and that is why I continue to support it.”
NHLWAA executive board member Natalie Darcy, who serves as the city of Keene’s Human Services Welfare Manager, describes Keene as a hub for support and emergency services in a rural area of the state. Darcy views the resolution as the approval of improved best practices that fosters fairness and consistency between municipalities.
“People experiencing homelessness often seek or are referred to Keene from around our region,” said Darcy. “As a community, Keene can take pride that we are supportive of humanitarian initiatives. This approved resolution supports humanitarian efforts, while acknowledging responsibility from municipalities of origin.”
Arlene Fogg, who serves as the town of Wakefield’s Welfare Director, believes smaller towns with limited services, including emergency housing, should follow the approved guidance.
“Smaller towns like Wakefield should do right by not encouraging our residents to relocate out of town or break residency ties simply to save the town money,” said Fogg. “When we refer Wakefield residents into emergency housing outside of Wakefield, we inform them they remain our residents while in emergency housing and for a time directly after, unless they transition into permanent housing.” Fogg added, “I welcome this more formal agreed approach.”
City of Somersworth Mayor Dana Hilliard, who was a primary initiator of the former Tri-Cities Mayor’s Taskforce on Homelessness, which resulted in an agreed collaborative master plan on homelessness for the cities of Somersworth, Rochester, and Dover, including resulting winter warming center efforts, believes New Hampshire needs these common ground approaches and appreciates the local welfare association’s efforts.
“This initiative is fair for taxpayers and insightful with its intentions to maintain and increase support for emergency housing,” said Hilliard. “It is an important piece to a larger puzzle of solutions.”
Marsh believes in the value of Municipal Local Welfare.
“Local welfare departments throughout the state continue to be accessible, aware, and accountable to people in need and to taxpayers that pay to meet that need,” said Marsh. “We collaborate with the vast network of unique and eclectic services throughout our state and are the inside voices of social services within our city and town halls. We often serve as a bridge of communication between advocacy organizations and municipal government.”
Marsh believes the ethics resolution agreement is a practical approach to solution funding.
“This is a common sense and common ground New Hampshire approach at a time when common sense and common ground approaches are becoming increasingly rare across our country,” said Marsh. “Those that benefit will be people in need and people paying for that need.”
The New Hampshire Local Welfare Administrators Association (NHLWAA) is a professional non-profit organization that educates and supports its municipal members to foster compliant, humanitarian, and fiscally responsible assistance practices when assisting residents with New Hampshire RSA 165 statutorily obligated basic needs. The Executive Board is the governing body of the NHLWAA and is made up of board members elected by the full membership
The association’s website (https://nhlwaa.org/) includes, but is not limited to, helpful information regarding offered trainings, assistance resources, a section for newer municipal local welfare administrators to learn “The Art of Local Welfare” with introductory resources, and the recently approved ethics guidance agreement.