Six months after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, many areas of the country outside the tourist hot spots are still in crumbling disrepair – some without electricity since the first storm, Hurricane Irma – and residents of the island nation that is closely tied to Chelsea continue to suffer.
Record photographer Keiko Hiromi traveled to Puerto Rico in late March to survey the damage, having followed the story last fall when Chelsea galvanized to provide thousands of pounds and multiple truckloads of donations to help relieve the situation.
Residents of Chelsea are closely tied to Puerto Rico, with thousands here having been born there or having had relatives emigrate here from the island.
Hiromi reported that upon landing at the airport, things looked normal, but upon leaving the population centers, she discovered homes in much the same shape as the day after the devastation.
“When I landed at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport on March 21, everything looked normal as if nothing had ever happened,” she said. “As I spent five days travelling through Puerto Rico, sometimes away from the functioning tourist areas, I witnessed Puerto Rico in recovery. Many raw scars were still unmended: debris on roads, houses without roofs. Yet, at the same time, I encountered the faces of resilient, strong, patient people, compassionate for each other.”
At the Chelsea Collaborative, Director Gladys Vega and Program Manager Sylvia Ramirez were not surprised at what Hiromi found. Both said they are worried that too many have forgotten about the disaster despite the fact that little has improved for many there.
“I knew that the island was going to be devastated, and at the same time I am shocked how citizens of the United States are so ignored,” she said. “In the next few months, the hurricane season is going to be starting again, and Puerto Rico is nowhere near able to take their normal storm season. One thing I was extremely sad about is we are not getting any help. The news has forgotten about Puerto Rico and moved on to other things. Meanwhile, Puerto Rico is still in devastation. People are suffering, they have no housing and they’re hungry.”
Ramirez said she feels the same way.
After the devastation, she headed up the Collaborative’s efforts to provide aid to those in Puerto Rico, and also to welcome families coming to Chelsea from the island for refuge.
She said much remains the same there, but that story isn’t getting out.
“I think the lack of coverage in the news doesn’t really portray the reality of what’s happening there,” she said. “People go on with their lives and they focus on their kids, they go to work, Christmas came and went. It’s no longer a priority because it’s not in the news. Our plan here in Chelsea is to do another call for action in June or July to bring attention to the situation. The worry for everyone is that nothing is being done to prepare for this year’s hurricane season.
“People go on with their lives, but there are still parts of the island absolutely devastated and nobody is talking about that,” she continued.
That is exactly what Hiromi reported firsthand.
In Toa Baja, just outside of San Juan Hiromi found Miguel Anjel Mericado at his home. His home still had a collapsed roof that had not been fixed and was open to the elements. Beams rested on the floor and electricity was spotty. He collected items that he could find in order to continue the efforts of fixing the home.
Hiromi also visited Yabucoa, where Maria first made landfall.
In Vega Alta, a rural community in the mountains, she visited a family that had no electricity since Hurricane Irma – the first storm to hit Puerto Rico last year even before Hurricane Maria.
Herberto Rivera, a school bus driver there, had been powering the family home with a generator they purchased months ago. They hoped that power would come back to the community before the next hurricane season.
In Chelsea, Ramirez said they are currently working with 55 families who came to the city after the hurricane for refuge, with 18 of them still in FEMA hotels. Statewide, she said, there are nearly 700 families in hotels who arrived after the storm, and 530 are in FEMA hotel rooms. The dire need is that FEMA will stop paying for those rooms on April 20. Already 123 families have used up the FEMA payments and are being paid for by the Red Cross.
She said they are still collecting furniture for those refugees moving into apartments, and they are still trying to secure more stable living conditions.
At the same time, the identical fight continues on the island of Puerto Rico.
“There are still a lot of people without electricity and with blue tarps on their roofs,” said Ramirez. “That’s the reality.”
A leader of MS-13’s Enfermos Criminales Salvatrucha clique was sentenced today in federal court in Boston.
Rafael Leoner Aguirre, a/k/a “Tremendo,” 22, a Salvadoran national, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV to 19 years in prison and three years of supervised release, which he will begin serving after completion of the state prison sentence for which he is currently incarcerated. Leoner Aguirre will also be subject to deportation upon the completion of his federal sentence. In November 2017, Leoner Aguirre was convicted by a federal jury after a multi-week trial of conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity, more commonly referred to as RICO conspiracy.
Leoner Aguirre was the leader of MS-13’s Enfermos Criminales Salvatrucha clique. In 2013, Leoner Aguirre entered the United States illegally from El Salvador and initially moved to Michigan. From there, he began recruiting and planning MS-13 activities impacting Massachusetts. Among other things, Leoner Aguirre created recruitment videos for MS-13 and posted them on YouTube. This enabled younger gang members and associates to view these videos, including one witness who testified that he first saw these videos while at a local high school in Massachusetts.
In March 2014, Leoner Aguirre moved to the Chelsea area and immediately began activating, organizing, and supervising the Enfermos clique. As part of that activity, Leoner Aguirre encouraged members of the clique to attack and kill rival gang members, in addition to committing other racketeering acts such as robberies. Leoner Aguirre himself committed a number of racketeering acts, including an attempted murder in Chelsea where Leoner Aguirre struck a victim in the head with a machete. Leoner Aguirre also committed an attempted murder involving a shooting, which is the incident for which he is currently serving a four-to-five year state prison sentence. Leoner Aguirre committed both of these attempted murders in daylight on busy public streets in Chelsea.
The other members and associates of the Enfermos clique were Hector Ramires, a/k/a “Cuervo;” Bryan Galicia Barillas, a/k/a “Chucky;” David Lopez, a/k/a “Cilindro,” a/k/a “Villano;” Daniel Menjivar, a/k/a “Roca,” a/k/a “Sitiko;” Angel Pineda, a/k/a “Bravo;” and Kevin Ayala, a/k/a “Gallito.” Each of these defendants has pleaded guilty and will be subject to deportation upon the completion of their sentences.
United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling; Harold H. Shaw, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division; Michael Shea, Acting Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Boston; Colonel Kerry A. Gilpin, Superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police; Commissioner Thomas Turco of the Massachusetts Department of Corrections; Essex County Sheriff Kevin F. Coppinger; Suffolk County Sheriff Steven W. Thompkins; Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley; Middlesex County District Attorney Marian T. Ryan; Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett; Boston Police Commissioner William Evans; Chelsea Police Chief Brian A. Kyes; Everett Police Chief Steven A. Mazzie; Lynn Police Chief Michael Mageary; Revere Police Chief James Guido; and Somerville Police Chief David Fallon made the announcement.
The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles is reminding the public that on March 26, to get or renew any driver’s license, ID card, or learner’s permit, customers will need documentation showing United States citizenship or lawful presence as required by federal and state law.
Lawful presence means that a person is legally living in the United States according to federal immigration laws. All United States citizens and lawfully permanent residents have permanent lawful presence in the U.S. Non-U.S. individuals who are studying, working, or living temporarily in the U.S. may have temporary lawful presence that may vary in length.
On March 26, customers will have the choice between a REAL ID Driver’s License or ID Card or a Standard Massachusetts Driver’s License or ID Card. REAL ID is a Federal Security Standard for IDs that was created in 2005 as a result of increased federal security measures after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
REAL ID will be available on March 26; however, people will not need a REAL ID until October 2020. And if they have an active passport and don’t mind carrying it, they will never need a REAL ID. After October 2020, citizens will need either a passport or REAL ID Massachusetts Driver’s License to fly in the United States, or to enter restricted areas of federal buildings. The Standard Massachusetts License or ID card will not be valid as a federal ID after October 2020.
“We encourage the public to review information on our website at HYPERLINK “http://www.mass.gov/id” t “_blank” mass.gov/id to learn what documents they must provide for the credential they seek,” said Registrar Erin Deveney. “In most cases, people will have the required documents on hand as these documents are regularly requested when a child starts school, when someone travels outside the country, or in order to get married.”
On March 26, individuals applying for Registry credentials are encouraged to start their applications online at HYPERLINK “http://www.mass.gov/rmv” t “_blank” mass.gov/rmvand answer a few questions to determine if they should choose a REAL ID driver’s license or ID or a Standard Driver’s license or ID, and exactly what identification documents are necessary for each. Customers who visit the RMV’s website will be able to print online applications or have an application that can be displayed on a mobile phone. The website tells customers exactly what to bring to complete the transaction and also directs AAA members to the closest AAA offices for renewals. The online application includes a bar code that will be scanned to retrieve the customer’s information in the system to save time in line. Renewal customers requesting a standard card may be able to perform their renewal successfully online, without coming in for the transaction in person.
Before March 26, 2018: Customers can process renewals as usual – online or in person at a RMV Service Center or AAA location, (if they are a member of AAA). The Registry encourages the public to renew early.
Lawful Presence Documentation
For U.S. citizens, a valid, unexpired U.S. passport is sufficient proof of lawful presence. U.S. citizens may also provide a certified copy of their U.S. birth certificate.
For permanent residents, a valid permanent resident card (green card) is sufficient proof of lawful presence.
For customers who are not U.S. citizens, valid, verifiable immigration documents as well as proof that they have been granted a legal stay in the U.S. for at least 12 months is required. Their license or ID will expire when their legal stay is over.
An MS-13 member was sentenced on March 22 in federal court in Boston to racketeering conspiracy involving murder, attempted murder, and conspiracy to commit murder.
Bryan Galicia Barillas, a/k/a “Chucky,” 21, a Guatemalan national who resided in Chelsea, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV to 22 years in prison and five years of supervised release. Galicia Barillas will be subject to deportation upon completion of this sentence. In October 2017, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity, more commonly referred to as RICO conspiracy.
The racketeering activity by Galicia Barillas, a member of MS-13’s Enfermos Criminales Salvatrucha (ECS) clique, included his involvement in the death of an innocent bystander in Chelsea. On Oct. 18, 2014, Galicia Barillas and Hector Ramires, a/k/a “Cuervo,” another member of the ECS clique, encountered a group of individuals in Chelsea suspected of belonging to a rival gang. Ramires, who was armed with a weapon that Galicia Barillas had provided on an earlier occasion, shot at one of the suspected gang rivals and missed, killing an innocent bystander who was looking out a nearby window of a room she shared with her three children. Galicia Barillas was a juvenile at the time of the murder.
Galicia Barillas also accepted responsibility for his role in a Sept. 8, 2014, stabbing and attempted murder of an individual in Chelsea, which Galicia Barillas also committed when he was a juvenile. Shortly after he turned 18, Galicia Barillas was involved in an April 2015 conspiracy to kill an MS-13 member that the gang believed was cooperating with law enforcement, and a May 26, 2015 stabbing and attempted murder of a suspected rival gang member in Chelsea.
Ramires pleaded guilty in October 2017 to RICO conspiracy involving murder and is scheduled to be sentenced on April 11, 2018.
After a three-year investigation, Galicia Barillas and Ramires were two of 61 persons named in a fifth superseding indictment targeting the criminal activities of alleged leaders, members, and associates of MS-13 in Massachusetts. MS-13 is one of the largest criminal organizations in the United States with thousands of members across the country, including a sizeable presence in Massachusetts. MS-13 members are required to commit acts of violence, including murder, against suspected gang rivals and those suspected of cooperating with law enforcement. The fifth superseding indictment alleges that, from approximately 2014 to 2016, MS-13 cliques in Massachusetts were responsible for, among other things, six murders and approximately 20 attempted murders, as well as robberies and drug trafficking.
Americans are paying too much for prescription medicines. State lawmakers are fed up with Washington’s apathy towards high pharmacy bills. So they’re taking matters into their own hands and pushing forward with several bills
Their proposals are well-intentioned — but they’re doomed to backfire and hurt patients. Why? The bills are based on false assumptions.
Many lawmakers believe that prescription drug prices are skyrocketing. They’re not. In fact, after accounting for all the rebates and discounts manufacturers offer, drug prices have barely budged in recent years. Drug spending grew just 1.3 percent in 2016, according to the latest federal data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Overall health spending increased by 4.3 percent.
In other words, drug spending is growing slower than hospital and nursing home expenditures. In fact, it’s growing even slower than the general inflation rate, which has averaged just under 2 percent.
Legislators also blame drug prices for rising costs in Medicaid, the entitlement program for low-income Americans that is managed and partly funded by the states. Once again, they’re mistaken.
Drug companies provide generous discounts and rebates back to Medicaid to curb its overall prescription drug spending. Medicaid’s statistics rarely reflect these discounts. In 2014, the program reported that its gross spending on drugs reached $21 billion. But after factoring in discounts, the program actually spent only $8 billion on medicines.
Federal law guarantees Medicaid the lowest drug prices on the market.
Nevertheless, state lawmakers insist that drug companies are charging too much. So they’re calling for a variety of price controls.
One measure floated in Utah would allow patients to import medicines from Canada. That’s a bad idea.
The policy wouldn’t lower healthcare costs. Ninety percent of all drugs sold in the United States are generic, and generics generally cost less in the United States than in Canada. a patient’s co-pay — what he actually pays at the pharmacy — is often lower than the price paid at a Canadian pharmacy, even if the list price of the medicine is higher in the United States.
Another proposal in Louisiana, would allow the state to infringe on manufacturers’ patents. State legislators want to give generic drug companies the right to make cheap knockoff copies of hepatitis C medicines, which are heavily utilized by the state’s Medicaid and prison populations.
This move simply isn’t necessary. In 2017, Medicaid spending on hepatitis C drugs fell by 28 percent — the biggest drop for any class of medicines.
If states start weakening patent protections, it will have a chilling effect on scientific research. Drug companies won’t plow billions in to developing new medicines if the government can break their patents on a whim. Patients would miss out on future treatments and cures as a result of this drop in research.
This isn’t to say that patients aren’t paying high prices for drugs. They are. But drug makers aren’t at fault.
Middlemen, like pharmacy benefit managers and insurers, are the ones raising prices on consumers.
PBMs negotiate drug prices on behalf of health plans. They secure big discounts and rebates from manufacturers. But PBMs and insurers routinely fail to pass these savings along to consumers. Instead, they hike consumers’ out-of-pocket expenses by forcing them to pay ever-higher co-pays and co-insurance.
If lawmakers want to reduce peoples’ pharmacy bills, they should demand more transparency from insurers and PBMs.
Peter J. Pitts, a former FDA Associate Commissioner, is President of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.
A Chelsea man, dubbed the “Spelling Bee Bandit,” was sentenced March 7 in federal court in Boston for four bank robberies.
Jason S. Englen, 34, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns to 84 months in prison and three years of supervised release. In November 2017, Englen pleaded guilty to four counts of bank robbery.
On Oct. 31, 2016, a man, later identified as Englen, entered a branch of TD Bank in Arlington, approached a teller and presented a note written on a deposit slip indicating a robbery and demanding cash. On the note, the word “robbery” was misspelled. The teller handed Englen money from the drawer and Englen fled the bank leaving the demand note behind.
Over the next few weeks, three additional banks were robbed in the same fashion: a branch of TD Bank in Reading on November 5, a branch of Salem Five in Burlington on November 7, and a branch of TD Bank in Peabody on November 13. Based on the similarity of the robberies and the physical description of the robber, law enforcement, seeking help from the public, identified Englen, who was already in state custody on unrelated charges, as the bank robber. On Dec. 12, 2016, Englen was arrested by federal authorities and charged.
SALVADORAN SENTENCED FOR ILLEGAL RE-ENTRY
A Salvadoran national was sentenced March 8 in federal court in Boston for illegally reentering the United States after deportation.
Gerardo Alberto Perez-Fuentes, 22, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton to six months in prison and one year of supervised release. Perez-Fuentes will be subject to deportation proceedings upon completion of his sentence. In December 2017, Perez-Fuentes pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful reentry of a deported alien.
Perez-Fuentes was previously deported on Sept. 4, 2015, and on Oct. 8, 2015. On Sept. 6, 2017, law enforcement in Chelsea encountered Perez-Fuentes and determined him to be illegally present in the United States.
United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling and Michael Shea, Acting Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Boston, made the announcement. Assistant U.S. Attorney Suzanne Sullivan Jacobus of Lelling’s Major Crimes Unit prosecuted the case.
A Guatemalan national was charged this week in federal court in Boston in connection with a conspiracy to distribute over five kilograms of fentanyl, worth approximately $1.25 million.
Rene Alejandro Salazar Reyes, 26, was charged by complaint with one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute fentanyl. Salazar was arrested on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, and will remain in custody pending a detention and probable cause hearing on Jan. 25, 2018, in federal court in Boston.
“Fentanyl is devastating communities across Massachusetts,” said United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling. “Just a few milligrams of fentanyl can cause a fatal overdose. Saturday’s seizure of over five kilograms is an important step in our efforts to keep this deadly drug off our streets. This investigation is a testament to our commitment to work with our law enforcement partners to aggressively pursue individuals who seek to distribute deadly narcotics, without any regard for human life, throughout our neighborhoods and communities.”
According to court documents, in November 2017, a cooperating witness informed a federal law enforcement officer that a Guatemalan man was selling heroin and/or fentanyl in the Boston area. After a series of recorded cell phone texts and calls, the Guatemalan man agreed to sell the cooperating witness five kilograms of fentanyl, which he would arrange to be delivered to the cooperating witness in Massachusetts. The cooperating witness agreed to make a partial payment of $70,000 for the drugs. The estimated street value of one kilogram of fentanyl is $250,000; one gram sells for approximately $40-$50.
It is alleged that on Jan. 19, 2018, the Guatemalan man placed a call, which was also recorded, to the cooperating witness informing him that a courier would deliver the fentanyl to him in Massachusetts the next day. Soon after, the cooperating witness received a call from the Guatemalan man’s courier, who law enforcement agents determined to be Salazar, the target of a previous criminal investigation in Maryland.
On Jan. 20, 2018, the cooperating witness called Salazar and asked him where he was and then drove to meet Salazar so that Salazar could then follow the cooperating witness to a location to conduct the transaction. While Salazar was on the phone with the cooperating witness, surveillance officers saw Salazar standing outside his vehicle. Once Salazar got into his car to follow the cooperating witness, agents followed Salazar and directed law enforcement officers to conduct a traffic stop.
According to court documents, when the officer stopped Salazar for failing to stop at a stop sign, Salazar appeared visibly nervous. The officer asked Salazar if he had any drugs or weapons in the car, to which Salazar replied that he did not. The officer then asked if he could search the car, to which Salazar replied, “Yes, go ahead.” According to the complaint affidavit, the officer found a large plastic shopping bag on the rear passenger floorboard that contained 23 individually heat sealed clear plastic bags containing approximately 5.2 kilograms of a white powdery substance. Salazar was then placed under arrest.
Salazar faces a sentence of no greater than 20 years in prison, three years and up to a lifetime of supervised release, a fine of $1 million, and will be subject to deportation proceedings upon completion of his sentence. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
An alleged member of MS-13 pleaded guilty Jan. 11 in federal court in Boston to an immigration charge.
Elenilson Gonzalez-Gonzalez, a/k/a “Siniestro,” 31, a Salvadoran national, pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful reentry of a deported alien. U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV scheduled sentencing for April 5, 2018.
Following a lengthy investigation, Gonzalez-Gonzalez was one of 61 defendants named in a superseding indictment targeting the activities of alleged leaders, members, and associates of the transnational criminal organization, La Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13.
Gonzalez-Gonzalez is the 27th defendant to plead guilty in this case.
In December 2015, during the course of the investigation, law enforcement encountered Gonzalez-Gonzalez near Deer Island National Park in Winthrop. Further investigation revealed that in May 2012, Gonzalez-Gonzalez had been apprehended by U.S. Customers and Border Patrol agents illegally entering the United States near Mission, Texas.
At that time, Gonzalez-Gonzalez admitted that he was a Salvadoran national who had entered the country illegally and was attempting to make his way to the Boston area. He was subsequently removed from the United States in 2012 on an expedited basis. Gonzalez-Gonzalez later re-entered the United States and was charged with illegal reentry after deportation.
The charging statute provides for a sentence of no greater than two years in prison, one year of supervised release, and up to a fine of $250,000. Gonzalez-Gonzalez will also be subject to deportation upon the completion of his federal sentence. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor
Association of Mature American Citizens
Dear Rusty: I will be turning 62 in 2018; birth date 9/24/1955. My husband is 77 and receiving Social Security. Longevity runs in my family. I have been self-employed all my life. I am still working and my husband collects a pension, Social Security and RMD from a traditional IRA, so there is no need for additional monies under my current circumstances. When should I start taking Social Security? Signed: Thinking about Retirement
Dear Thinking: The question of when to take Social Security normally gets an answer of “It depends on your health, your family history of longevity, and your need for the money”. You’ve already addressed those items so I’ll focus on your main question – when should you start taking Social Security?
Even though you’ll be eligible to collect Social Security when you turn 62, if you do so you will only get 74.17% of the retirement benefit you would be entitled to at your full retirement age (FRA). Whenever you apply, you will be deemed to be filing not only for your own retirement benefit but also any spousal benefit you may be entitled to from your husband’s work record. Similar to your SS retirement benefit, your spousal benefit would also be reduced because you took it early; instead of being 50% of your husband’s benefit at your FRA, you would only get 35% at age 62 (if that is larger than your own retirement benefit). The point I’m making is that by claiming SS early, any benefit you’re entitled to will be reduced from what you would get at your full retirement age.
Just as you are penalized for claiming before your full retirement age, you are rewarded for waiting beyond it to claim Social Security retirement benefits. In fact, for each year you wait beyond your full retirement age, your retirement benefit will be 8% higher than it would be at your FRA. That will continue up until you are 70 years old when your retirement benefit will be 30.67% higher than it would have been at your FRA. You stop earning additional credit at age 70, so there’s no reason to wait beyond that to apply. Let’s use an easy example to illustrate: If your FRA retirement benefit is $1000, by applying at age 62 you would only get $741 per month instead of $1000. But if you wait until you are 70 to claim benefits, you would get $1306 per month, nearly twice what you would get by applying at age 62.
There are two other factors you should incorporate into your thinking:
1) At your FRA, you will be entitled to ½ of your husband’s benefit at his FRA. If your spousal benefit at your FRA is substantially more than your own retirement benefit, then applying at your FRA may be a good strategy, as opposed to waiting and earning delayed retirement credits.
2) Once you have reached your FRA you will be entitled to 100% of your husband’s benefit amount if he should predecease you. If your eventual survivor’s benefit would be more than your own FRA benefit amount, you might be better served by claiming your retirement benefit earlier than age 70.
As you can see, most of the answer to your question depends upon whether your benefits as a spouse or a survivor will be more than your benefit based upon your own work record. If not, then waiting beyond your FRA up to age 70 will yield you the maximum retirement benefit. But if your spouse and/or survivor’s benefit will be more than your own retirement benefits, then applying at your full retirement age may be the best strategy. If you haven’t already done so, I suggest you go to www.ssa.gov and set up your personal “My Social Security” account which will give you access to your currently estimated retirement benefit. Comparing that to your potential spousal and survivor benefits should give you the answer you’re seeking.
The information presented in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The opinions and interpretations expressed are the viewpoints of the AMAC Foundation’s Social Security Advisory staff, trained and accredited under the National Social Security Advisors program of the National Social Security Association, LLC (NSSA). NSSA, the AMAC Foundation, and the Foundation’s Social Security Advisors are not affiliated with or endorsed by the United States Government, the Social Security Administration, or any other state government. Furthermore, the AMAC Foundation and its staff do not provide legal or accounting services. The Foundation welcomes questions from readers regarding Social Security issues. To submit a request, contact the Foundation at email@example.com.
The Metro Housing Boston organization reported this month that their transition assistance program for families in crisis helped 70 families in Chelsea with a total expenditure of $190,623 locally.
Outside of Boston, Chelsea was the one community where RAFT was utilized more than others. The next closest community was Malden with 47 families helped.
The Rental Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program provides families with a small amount of cash assistance and provides an option to having to enter emergency shelter. Metro Housing Boston administers RAFT in Boston and 28 surrounding communities. With RAFT, eligible families can apply for up to $4,000 that can be used to help retain housing, get new housing, keep utilities on and to avoid homelessness. To qualify, a family cannot make more than 50 percent of the area median income, which in the 2017 Boston region was $46,550 for a family of three.
“Many families are living paycheck to paycheck,” red the report. “An unplanned expense can put their housing in jeopardy. RAFT provides a safety net for families to have something to fall back on when they are in crisis and need support.”
It is the fourth year that Metro Housing Boston has shared the data about the program, which is funded by the state Department of Housing and Community Development. Stating that Boston is one of the top five most expensive cities to live within in the United States, officials from Metro Housing Boston said such funding is extremely important for families with very low incomes to handle things like fires or other catastrophes that they cannot afford to plan for.
“For four years running, our reports continue to show the positive impacts of the RAFT program,” said Metro Housing Executive Director Christopher Norris. “For a relatively small investment, families in our region are able to stay in their communities near their children’s schools, their health providers, and their social networks. This is crucial to helping families maintain stability and achieve economic security.”
Overall, including Chelsea, the program likely saved 1,000 families from turning to a shelter – which also is estimated to have saved the state $31 million in emergency shelter funds. For the $3.8 million RAFT funding, 1,474 families were able to resolve housing crises.
With the continued commitment to funding by the state for RAFT, the program has been able to assist 60 percent more families than it did four years ago. However, this year the average benefit decreased by 3 percent to an average of $2,614 per client.
Also, a pilot program during FY17 expanded RAFT eligibility to include families of all sizes and configurations. Under this program, Metro Housing served 60 households, 31 of whom were individuals and 27 of whose head of household had a disability.
A vast majority of those receiving RAFT (48 percent) use it to pay rent that is in arrears. Some 20 percent use it to pay security deposits for a new apartment, and 11 percent use it for first/last months rent payments on a new apartment.