House Passes Homes for Heroes Act of 2008
Taking a giant step towards establishing a program to prevent homelessness among veterans, the House of Representatives passed H. R. 3329, the Homes for Heroes Act of 2008, on July 9. The legislation would authorize the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to establish a housing program for very low-income veteran families and formerly homeless veterans with supportive services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Since January NCHV and representatives of housing, homeless, veteran and military service organizations have met monthly to work towards enacting the Homes for Heroes legislation, introduced by Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) in the Senate (S. 1084), and Representative Al Green (D-TX) in the House (H.R. 3329). Since the bill passed in the House, NCHV and other groups have met with selected Senate staff members and written letters to senators urging them to support the legislation to ensure enactment before the 110th Congress adjourns later this year. NCHV was joined by Goodwill Industries International, The Salvation Army and Volunteers of America in a letter sent to every senator.
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 that must be passed by both the House and Senate before the close of the 110th Congress. 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 FY 2011; 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 would repeal authority for adjustments to per diem payments to homeless veteran service centers for receipt of other sources of income and make grant funds available to maintain adequate staffing for services in homeless veteran service centers. 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 Supportive Services for Formerly Homeless Veterans Residing in Permanent Housing
In June the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee approved legislation that would increase the authorization level of the GPD program to $200 million and would provide supportive services to formerly homeless veterans residing in permanent housing. The bill, S. 2969, the Veterans Health Care Authorization Act of 2008, must be passed by the Senate. No legislation has been introduced in the House regarding either of these issues.
Congress Continues Work on FY 2009 Appropriations
House and Senate Appropriations Committees continued their work on FY 2009 appropriations to fund programs to serve homeless veterans. Related Senate and House Committee actions include the following:
VA Homeless Veterans Assistance Programs
Regarding VA homeless veterans assistance programs, the Senate Appropriations Committee recommended an increase of $8 million above the President’s request for the VA’s Homeless Grant and Per Diem (GPD) Program, bringing the funding to the fully authorized level of $130 million. However, the Committee acknowledged pending legislation (S. 2969, the Veterans Health Care Authorization Act of 2008, see reference above) reported out of the Senate in June, which would raise the authorization level for the GPD program to $200 million. Should this bill pass the Senate, the VA will be directed to increase the funding for GPD to the fully authorized level. The Committee recommended an additional $10 million above the President’s request for GPD liaisons and an additional $30 million to increase the number of caseworkers and personnel for the Housing and Urban Development/Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program.
The House Appropriations 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.
DOL Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program
Regarding programs funded under the Department of Labor (DOL) Veterans Employment and Training, the Senate Appropriations Committee recommended $25,620,000 for the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP) and $7,351,000 for the Veterans Workforce Investment Program (VWIP), the same as the President’s budget request.
The House Appropriations Labor HHS Subcommittee approved $27,040,000 for HVRP, a $3,420,000 above the FY 2008 level and $1,420,000 above the President’s request. The recommended funding level for VWIP is $7,931,000, a $580,000 increase above the President’s request. The House Appropriations Committee will take up the bill in September.
HUD-VASH and Permanent Supportive Housing
Regarding veterans permanent housing programs, the Senate Appropriations Committee recommended $75 million for the HUD-VASH program, a funding level equal to the FY 2008 enacted level and consistent with the budget request. The funding provided in FY 2009 will provide for an additional 10,000 new rental vouchers for homeless veterans. The Senate Appropriations Committee also included $10 million for HUD to conduct a demonstration program and directs HUD to coordinate with the VA and DOL to test the effectiveness of strategies to prevent veterans from becoming homeless. The Committee also included up to $750,000 for an evaluation of this demonstration.
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 House Appropriations Committee will take up the bill in September.
July 18, 2008
The Honorable Daniel K. Akaka
United States Senate
SH-141 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-1103
Dear Senator Akaka:
We the undersigned represent community-based organizations that provide supportive services and housing to homeless veterans. We are writing to ask for your support of S. 1084, the Homes for Heroes Act, legislation that would provide housing assistance for very low-income and formerly homeless veterans. The companion bill, HR 3329, was amended by the House Financial Services Committee last month and passed the House of Representatives on July 9 by a vote of 412-9. We hope the Senate will take similar action before adjourning later this year.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officials recently reported on any given night, between 150,000 and 200,000 veterans are homeless. Veterans are at a greater risk of becoming homeless due to health problems (post traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse issues, mental health disorders), economic issues (extremely low or no livable income), and a shortage of affordable housing. While most currently homeless veterans served during prior conflicts or in peacetime, the newest generation of combat veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom (OIF-OEF), both men and women, are returning home and suffering from war related conditions that may put them at risk for homelessness. A growing trend in homelessness among these new veterans points to a need to develop a coordinated approach to reduce, eliminate and prevent homelessness among all veterans.
S. 1084 and H.R. 3329 will provide shelter for homeless veteran families and help prevent low-income families from falling into homelessness. Specifically, the legislation would authorize the HUD Secretary to establish a housing program for very low-income veteran families with supportive services provided by the VA; designate a position of Special Assistant for Veterans Affairs within HUD; authorize an increase in budget authority under the project rental assistance component of the Housing Choice Voucher program to finance 20,000 rental assistance vouchers for homeless veterans; and require HUD to issue an annual report on its programs and activities pertaining to veterans.
To meet the current and future needs of our nation’s most vulnerable veterans, please support the Homes for Heroes Act. Supporting this historic veteran homelessness prevention initiative will be a giant step forward towards ending veteran homelessness in America.
Goodwill Industries International
National Coalition for Homeless Veterans
The Salvation Army
Volunteers of America