FY 2012 NCHV Policy Priorities
May 12, 2011
The focus of NCHV’s policy priorities for FY 2012 resembles that of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH)’s Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness: housing, health, income and prevention. These four categories comprise the spectrum of veteran homelessness issues, including employment, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, and transitional and permanent supportive housing.
INCREASE ACCESS TO HOUSING
HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program
The Secretaries of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) have identified 60,000 HUD-VASH vouchers as the number needed to “get to the goal of ending veterans’ homelessness,” HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan told two Senate Appropriations Subcommittees in May 2010. To date, 30,000 vouchers have been allocated. Approximately 7,000 additional vouchers were appropriated on April 15, 2011, bringing the total number of vouchers to about 60 percent of the target.
Another round of 10,000 HUD-VASH vouchers should be fully funded in FY 2012 – per the administration’s request – to bring us within reach of ending veteran homelessness by 2015.
In September 2010, HUD announced the set-aside of 500 project-based vouchers for public housing agencies that had previously received HUD-VASH voucher allocations. Allowing more project-based vouchers would spur the development of supportive housing units in areas where there is a critical shortage, and would maximize the efficiency of limited services dollars by concentrating clients with the greatest need rather than spreading them out over large urban and rural areas.
Modifying policies to allow more project-based vouchers would require HUD and VA interagency collaboration, not congressional action.
Grant and Per Diem Program
VA’s Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program (GPD) provides transitional housing and supportive services to homeless veterans for up to two years. This is the largest homeless veterans-specific program in the nation, and the fastest way out of homelessness for the majority of the population. NCHV urges Congress to fund GPD at $224 million in FY 2012 – per the administration’s request – and raise its authorization level to $250 million.
Revised GPD repayments
A revised payment process would greatly benefit GPD grantees, the majority of which are modest community-based organizations. NCHV recommends that grantees be paid for the annual cost of providing services as opposed to a per-diem rate. Grantees should be allowed to draw from these funds in anticipation of contractual activities; currently, grantees must pay for the services they provide up front and are later reimbursed.
Revising the reimbursement method could effectively restore funding for much-needed drop-in centers, which are unaffordable to nearly all grantees on a per diem of $38.90 per veteran housed. These centers allow veterans to check in on a non-residential basis with service providers in order to receive necessities, as well as housing and service referrals.
Special Need grants
VA Special Need grants, funded through the GPD, must be reauthorized during FY 2011 as they are currently set to expire. These grants serve four demographics of homeless veterans: women, including those with dependent children; the frail elderly; the terminally ill; and the chronically mentally ill.
Homeless veterans with dependent children, regardless of gender, should become a focus of these funds. According to annual VA CHALENG reports, child care is consistently identified as one of the most unmet needs of both male and female homeless veterans.
Primary and mental health care
In order to reduce the risk of homelessness for OIF/OEF veterans, including those with dependent children, a government-wide “open-door” policy should be enacted to ensure immediate access to primary and mental health care and substance abuse treatment. This would relieve combat veterans of the burdens of applying for and receiving health care services in areas underserved by VA medical facilities. Both VA officials and veterans have commented on the hardship experienced by veterans in the current fee basis system.
This open-door policy should also be targeted to veterans needing long-term rehabilitation. NCHV continues to discuss this initiative with agencies such as VA, HHS and USICH, which are actively engaged in finding ways to increase access to mainstream services for homeless and at-risk veterans.
EMPLOYMENT AND INCOME SUPPORTS
Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP)
The Department of Labor (DOL)’s HVRP is the only federal employment program targeted to homeless veterans. Currently, this program – one of the most successful in the entire DOL portfolio – is set to expire at the end of FY 2011 and requires a reauthorization.
Despite the program’s continued success and cost-effectiveness, HVRP has repeatedly fallen short of its allowable funding level. In FY 2010, the program received $36.33 million, and the administration has requested a $3 million increase for FY 2012. NCHV insists that Congress finally fund HVRP at the full authorization level of $50 million.
VA benefits claims can be a vital income source for homeless veterans. Claims processing must be expedited – determinations for these veterans should not exceed three months. Furthermore, it should be mandatory for all veterans admitted to GPD or community Shelter Plus Care programs to have a VA benefits claim filed on their behalf.
Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program
VA is in the process of awarding $50 million through its SSVF Program to promote housing stability for very low-income veterans and their families. About 600,000 veterans can be classified as extreme low-income, and are therefore at great risk of homelessness. Ideally, the SSVF Program should be funded at $100 million in order to meet this large need.
Collaboration between the Department of Defense and VA will strengthen prevention efforts as well. A records transfer between the agencies has already been mandated. NCHV further recommends a mandatory screening for all OIF/OEF veterans for TBI, mental health issues, hepatitis C, TB, HIV, and potential indicators of economic hardship and possible homelessness: lack of permanent housing; obstacles to transitioning into civilian employment; and behavioral or substance abuse problems, including prescription drug addiction.
Promotion of access points
At-risk and homeless veterans have access to many portals for assistance, yet many are unaware of them. NCHV encourages federal agencies to publicize these access points through major publications, public service announcements, etc.