Homeless Veterans Bills Advance on Capitol Hill
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) is pleased to report on the progress of several key legislative initiatives that promise to have a significant impact on the delivery of services to homeless veterans.
On Oct. 22, NCHV was invited to the White House to witness President Barack Obama’s signing of the landmark Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act, which requires the submission and approval of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care budget one year in advance of the appropriations process to safeguard against funding shortfalls. Veterans Service Organizations and NCHV have worked on this issue for years, and President Obama expressed his gratitude for that effort. NCHV President John Driscoll and Board of Directors Treasurer Laurence Fitzmaurice attended the ceremony.
Not coincidentally, the stage was shared by several representatives and senators who just this week signaled their bipartisan, enthusiastic support for a number of bills on which NCHV had the privilege of working with congressional staff and agency representatives. During a mark-up session in the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Subcommittee on Health, the following measures were unanimously referred to the full committee for consideration:
H.R. 2504: VA Grant and Per Diem Program – Introduced by Rep. Harry Teague (D-NM), this bill would increase the authorized appropriation for the VA Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program (GPD) in fiscal year (FY) 2010 from $150 million to $200 million (also included in S. 1547).
H.R. 2559: Help Our Homeless Veterans Act – Introduced by Rep. Phil Hare (D-IL), this is both an intervention and a prevention initiative. The act directs the VA to develop and carry out a national media campaign to inform homeless and at-risk veterans about the benefits they have earned and where to turn for help when they need it
H.R. 2735: Improvements in Comprehensive Service Programs for Homeless Veterans – Introduced by Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX), this bill calls for revisions in GPD funding policies, most notably to change the reimbursement payment policy from a flat “per diem” rate to reflect an organization’s annual cost of serving homeless veterans and to allow GPD grantees to obtain matching funds from other federal agencies to increase capacity and enhance their programs.
H.R. 3906: Financial Assistance for Supportive Services for Very Low-Income Veterans in Permanent Housing – Introduced by Rep. Harry Teague (D-NM), this bill would authorize appropriations for the VA to provide financial assistance for supportive services for very low-income veterans in permanent housing to prevent homelessness. The bill would increase the authorization from $50 million to $100 million by FY 2014 and thereafter.
Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs
Driscoll was invited to testify before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs on Oct. 21 on two bills NCHV has worked on since the beginning of the 111th Congress. We were greatly encouraged by the opening remarks of committee Ranking Member Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who called ending veteran homelessness one of his top priorities.
S. 1237: Homeless Women Veterans and Homeless Veterans With Children Act of 2009 – Introduced by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Jack Reed (D-RI), this bill would authorize $10 million for a grant program to provide employment preparation and placement assistance to women veterans and single homeless veterans with dependent children. The bill also authorizes the VA to extend assistance to the children of single homeless veterans through the Grant and Per Diem program.
S. 1547: Zero Tolerance for Veteran Homelessness Act of 2009 – Introduced by Senators Reed, Christopher Bond (R-MO), Murray, Johnson, John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) – with the support of 12 cosponsors – this bill has the potential to set this nation on course to finally achieve victory in the campaign to end veteran homelessness in the United States. The act calls for expansion of the HUD-VASH program to 60,000 vouchers by FY 2014 – effectively ending chronic veteran homelessness in five years; authorizes $50 million annually for supportive services for low-income veterans to prevent homelessness and help those who are find housing; eases restrictions on financing for projects that create or expand GPD transitional housing; calls for the VA Secretary to study current GPD reimbursement policies and submit his recommendations to Congress for changing to a system that covers grantees’ actual costs for serving homeless veterans; and establishes the office of Special Assistant for Veterans Affairs within the Department of Housing and Urban Development to ensure veterans’ fair access to housing and homeless assistance programs.
After the hearing, committee Chairman Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) called the bipartisan measures “essential to the campaign to end veteran homelessness” and vowed to see both measures scheduled for mark-up as quickly as possible.
NCHV members are advised to check our website frequently for updates on these measures as well as Notices of Funding Availability (NOFAs) for grant opportunities as they are announced. Members will also receive email alerts on grant announcements as soon as they are published in the Federal Register and other sources.