Congress begins work on FY 2009 Appropriations
House and Senate Appropriations Committees began their work on FY2009 appropriations in June with the release of the two Committee’s 302(b) allocations, which are the FY 2009 funding allocations for each of the subcommittees. In preparation for that process, on May 1 NCHV was invited to testify before a joint hearing conducted by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and the Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. NCHV’s testimony recommended increasing the GPD authorization level to $200 million, changing the mechanism for determining “per diem” allowances, increasing funding for Special Needs grants and the HUD-VASH program and focusing on preventing homelessness, especially among OEF-OIF veterans. Additionally, NCHV requested the Congress appropriate $50 million, the fully authorized level of funding for the Department of Labor Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program. NCHV also asked Congress to enact legislation that would provide supportive services for low income veterans living in permanent supportive housing and improving the disposition of VA real property to homeless veteran service providers. The full testimony appears on the NCHV website.
House Appropriations Committee and Subcommittee actions include the following:
On June 19, 2008 the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor and HHS approved $27,040,000 for the Department of Labor’s Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program, which is $3,420,000 above the FY 2008 level and $1,420,000 above the President’s request. The full Committee will take up the bill in July.
On June 20, 2008 the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development approved $75 million to fund 10,000 new rental vouchers for homeless veterans through the HUD-VASH program. The full Committee will take up the bill in July.
On June 24, 2008, the House Appropriations Committee accepted the recommendations of the Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs regarding funding for the Grant and Per Diem and HUD-VA Supportive Housing programs. The committee approved $130 million for the program, rejecting the President’s $8 million cut and funding it at the same level as Fiscal Year 2008 and including $32 million to hire additional personnel for the HUD-VASH program.
Senate Appropriations Committee and Subcommittee actions include the following:
On July 10, 2008, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the appropriations bill for Transportation and Housing and Urban Development. The bill includes an $80 million increase for HUD homelessness programs, a $500 million increase above the President's request for Section 8 Tenant-Based Housing program, $75 million to fund 10,000 new housing vouchers for homeless veterans, which is equal to the amount recommended by the House subcommittee on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, and $100 million of level funding for the Hope VI program. The President did not request any funding for this program. On the House side, the bill has already passed through the subcommittee, and is awaiting approval by the full Appropriations Committee.
VA Homeless Veteran Assistance Programs
The House and Senate have passed bills containing provisions that would affect homeless veterans assistance programs. In July 2007, the House passed H.R. 2874, the Veterans Health Care Improvement Act of 2007 and in May 2008, the Senate passed S. 2162, the Veterans' Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act of 2008. Staff of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees must now confer on a final bill. The following provisions are included in one or both bills:
S. 2162 and H.R. 2874 provide for permanent authority for domiciliary services for homeless veterans and enhance the VA’s capacity to provide domiciliary care for women veterans; amend a demonstration program concerning VA provision of referral and counseling services for at-risk (of homelessness) veterans transitioning from certain institutions (including penal and mental treatment institutions) to: (1) remove the "demonstration" designation; (2) have such program in at least 12 (under current law, six) locations; and (3) extend the program through FY2011; and authorize the VA to make financial assistance available to nonprofit organizations to facilitate their provision of supportive services for very low-income veterans in permanent housing.
S. 2162 also makes grant funds available to maintain adequate staffing for services in homeless veteran service centers and H.R. 2874 would reduce from 60 to 30 the number of days required for homeless veterans to be enrolled for and receive care in a VA program in order to be eligible for dental services.
VA Grant and Per Diem Reauthorization and Payment Revisions
Although NCHV has requested the Congress to increase the authorization level of the VA Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem (GPD) Program from $130 million to $200 million, no new related legislation has been introduced in either the House or Senate.
Regarding revisions in the GPD payment system, S. 2162 includes a provision that would repeal authority for adjustments to per diem payments to homeless veteran service centers for receipt of other sources of income. No related legislation has been introduced in the House.
Supportive Services for Formerly Homeless Veterans
In May 2008 the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a legislative hearing on a bill introduced by Senator Akaka (D-HI), S. 2273, the Enhanced Opportunities for Formerly Homeless Veterans Residing in Permanent Housing Act of 2007. The bill would provide supportive services to formerly homeless veterans residing in permanent housing. No further Committee action has occurred since the hearing nor has similar legislation been introduced in the House. NCHV’s comments regarding S. 2273 can be found on the NCHV website under Policy & Legislation (Testimony).
Veterans Permanent Supportive Housing
To address the need to establish permanent supportive housing for veterans, NCHV and representatives of housing, homeless and veteran service organizations have been meeting monthly since January to work towards enacting the Homes for Heroes Act of 2007, introduced by Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) in the Senate (S. 1084), and Representative Al Green (D-TX) in the House (H.R. 3329). The legislation would provide permanent supportive housing for low income veterans. The following letter was sent to Representative Maxine Waters (D-35th-CA), Chair, and Shelley Moore Capito (R-2nd-WV), Ranking Minority Member, of the House Financial Services Subcommittee in preparation for the mark-up of HR 3329 on May 14. The bill was approved by the Subcommittee and by the full Committee on June 26. The House is likely to take up HR 3329 in July. To date, the Senate has taken no action on S. 1084.
On July 31, the House Financial Services Committee voted to reauthorize the McKinney-Vento program (H.R. 840, the HEARTH Act) with the manager’s amendment offered by Rep. Gwen Morre (D-WI) and Subcommittee Chair Maxine Waters (D-CA). The reauthorizing legislation includes many provisions to enhance McKinney-Vento, including authorization to increase appropriations, a streamlined program, simplified match requirements, increased family and prevention funding, codifying the 30% permanent supportive housing set-aside and many other improvements. During the committee mark-up an amendment to further broaden the definition was offered, debated and withdrawn without a vote.
National Housing Trust Fund Signed into Law
President George W. Bush signed H.R. 3221, The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, into law on July 30, creating a permanent Housing Trust Fund in the process. The bill became Public Law No. 110-289.
In addition to creating the housing trust fund, the sweeping legislation reforms the Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs) Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae by creating a single regulator to oversee the GSEs, established a new refinancing program within the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to help homeowners facing foreclosure, and creates an Administration-proposed plan to help the financially-distressed GSEs.
The Administration had expressed reservations regarding numerous provisions of the bill, including the addition of $3.92 billion in Community Development Block Grants for neighborhood stabilization. But after Congress accepted the White House’s GSE plan, the Administration issued a Statement of Administration Policy in favor of the bill, ensuring passage of the bill in Congress. The House of Representatives on July 23 overwhelmingly passed the measure by a vote of 272 to 152, and the Senate followed suit on July 26 with a 72 to 13 vote.
As created in the bill, the Housing Trust Fund is a permanent program with a dedicated source of funding not subject to the annual appropriations process. At least 90% of the funds must be used for the production, preservation, rehabilitation, or operation of rental housing. Up to 10% can be used for first-time homebuyers’ activities. At least 75% of the funds used for rental housing must benefit extremely low income households and all funds must benefit very low income households.