Q. A family served with the HOPWA TBRA program, has no furniture. They are sleeping on air mattresses on the floor and with minimal bed covers, etc. Is the purchase of basic furnishings, linens, cooking needs such as pots, and pans, an allowable expense under "other" from a supportive services budget?
A. Household items are an allowable HOPWA support service purchase; however, some considerations should be put in place in terms of policy that is fair to all households in the same situation:
- Place a household dollar limit on the amount of money available to each
- Consider purchasing vouchers from local thrift stores that have decent items as a means to save money
- Consider securing donations from local civic groups or churches to "adopt" a family (not personally for confidentiality reasons) that needs these items when moving into a new residence
- Requiring a case manager to accompany the household shopping, in order to pay for the items and maintain a receipt for the client files
If purchasing basic furnishings is allowable under supportive services, which category under services would that fall under? The HUD Oversight Guide says other activities but it has to have prior HUD approval). This is related to the HOPWA Formula grant so I wasn't sure if there was a specific category or is it definitely other?
The above guidance is making an assumption that the funds are from formula funding project sponsors - which have more flexibility than competitive funding. Competitive HOPWA grants must have HUD approval through the application and contracting process - but formula grantees have more flexibility in determining what they fund. The "Other" category for formula grants can include household items as described above. Formula grantees should describe in their Consolidated Plan the various uses for their HOPWA funding. That is the manner that HUD offices basically approve the uses for formula funding, although some grantees do not get that specific, but leave the supportive services category open for the needs identified through their project sponsors. Project sponsors under formula funding should always confer with their grantee on how open or specific they want to allow HOPWA support services to be spent. In any case, whatever support services funds are spent with HOPWA should be targeted on assisting the client household in stabilizing and remaining in place. The expenditure should always be focused and linked to housing stability.
There are some places that use some of their HOPWA for thrift store vouchers - but unlike general retail store gift cards they are not quite as "appealing" to most people as an item to sell or purchase. The thrift store vouchers are often based on an agreement with the project sponsor agencies and when issued the sponsor calls the thrift store to let them know who to expect will be making the purchase. There are ways to better control thrift store vouchers with particular agreements than general gift cards or certificates.
Note: HUD does not allow purchasing grocery or store gift certificates to give to family members. History has demonstrated that they are too challenging to track and can be sold, lost, traded, and receipts for purchases are hard to secure after the fact from clients.