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Congressional Update

Policy and Legislative Update: First to Second Session of 113th Congress 

Jan. 2, 2013

With the start of the New Year comes a new session of the 113th Congress. This is a good time to take stock of what has been accomplished in the past year, and identify goals for the year to come. All in all, NCHV and the entire community have had a successful 2013.

The recent release of the Annual Homeless Assessment Report has indicated the declining trend of veteran homelessness has continued, dropping to 57,849 individuals from the previous year’s 62,619. On Capitol Hill, and in the face of legislative recalcitrance, funding levels have remained stable or increased, and important changes to programs are in the works. As we enter the New Year it will be increasingly important to look to, and beyond, the end of the Five-Year Plan to End Veteran Homelessness by 2015 in order to continue to be effective advocates for the hard-won victories that your important work has managed to achieve.

The Close of the 1st Session of the 113th Congress

Despite the budgetary conflicts that have crippled much of the legislative process, and even temporarily shut down the federal government, Congress has remained committed to the Five-Year Plan. Funding has remained stable across the spectrum of homeless veteran assistance programs, and may even increase in places. Budgetary authorization for all of our programs administered by the Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA), Labor (DOL), and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have been extended through Fiscal Year 2014 at their current levels.

On December 11, 2013, the House passed a Joint Resolution providing for Fiscal Year 2014. The following levels of funding have been provided for in this bill. At press time, the Senate had yet to approve the bill, but it was expected to pass.

• Grant and Per Diem (GPD): $235 million.
• Supportive Services for very-low income Veteran Families (SSVF): $300 million.
• Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP): $38.185 million.
• HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH): $75 million.

All of these levels of funding are stable from last year. The HUD-VASH appropriation will fund about an additional 10,000 vouchers this year, as this money is incremental. It is possible that if a further Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill is passed, then the appropriations for the GPD program will increase to $250 million for FY 2014.

Of course, the budgetary difficulties are made more acute because of sequestration. Despite some mechanical changes to the way funding is cut, the majority of homeless veteran assistance programs have retained their immunity to those cuts. The health programs based at VA cannot be reduced because of sequestration; this leaves only HVRP in jeopardy. Because it is administered by DOL, HVRP has been, and will continue to be, subject to sequestration. It loses about $2 million a year from these cuts.

Carry-Over from 1st to 2nd Session

Several important pieces of legislation were still in the works at the end of the 1st session, and NCHV will be working to make sure they are taken up again this year.

The first is a bill which would ensure that veterans benefitting from the HUD-VASH program as part of the Rapid Re-housing paradigm be able to enroll in HVRP jobs training. Currently, by being rapidly re-housed, the veteran loses his or her homeless “status” and is ineligible to receive the benefits of HVRP. NCHV believes that “Housing First” should never mean “Housing Only.”

The second bill that is in the legislative process would augment our efforts to end veteran homelessness in several ways. It would extend the budgetary authorization for HVRP through Fiscal Year 2018, removing uncertainty on the part of grantees about continued funding. The bill would also extend Servicemembers Civil Relief Act protections against foreclosure to several groups for a period of one year. NCHV believes that by providing this one-year protection to some of the most at-risk and vulnerable populations, we can prevent instances of homelessness for veterans and their families facing housing transitions. This bill, which originated in the House of Representatives, passed through that chamber by voice vote – a welcome display of bipartisan support for homeless veterans.

The final bill of consequence would greatly bolster the community’s efforts to end homelessness among veterans, and would fill many of the service gaps that our members identified in a survey taken at the NCHV Annual Conference in May 2013. This bill passed the Senate with unanimous consent and has been sent to the House. Some of the provisions include:

• Expanding the definition of a homeless veteran to include those fleeing domestic violence
• Increasing Per Diem payments for transitional housing beds
• Allowing Per Diem payments for the dependent children of homeless veterans
• Providing for the dental care of homeless veterans enrolled in all of our programs
• Supporting legal services for homeless veterans

These bills would greatly promote the capacity of this community to serve those veterans who are still homeless. NCHV fully supports the efforts of the legislators who sponsored these bills, and of those who support them.

Looking Forward

NCHV has identified several goals to pursue in the new legislative session. These will likely grow as the year goes on, but will serve as initial targets for our efforts:

• Continued stable funding levels of all homeless veteran assistance programs, and sufficient and sustained resources above those levels where necessary
• In particular, SSVF should be funded at no less than its current $300 million. Furthermore, the authorization cap should be removed, allowing the Secretary of the VA to re-appropriate unused monies into the SSVF account. NCHV may also advocate for additional appropriations above the current funding level to a possible $500 million
• A full appropriation of $50 million for the HVRP program
• The incremental buildup of HUD-VASH should continue through 2015, to include additional project-based vouchers for veterans in areas with a high concentration of chronically homeless veterans
• Permanent authorization of the National Center for Homelessness Among Veterans, the research arm of the VA for homeless veteran issues and the programs in place to serve them

NCHV recently served in an advisory role for the veteran homelessness section of the Fiscal Year 2015 Independent Budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Independent Budget is co-authored by AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Veterans of Foreign Wars. This budgetary and policy document contains a more exhaustive list, from which the highlights above are drawn, and will be released concurrently with the Administration’s budget in early 2014.


Congressional Update

House Passes FY 2014 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill
Bill would fund VA homeless programs at highest levels in history, includes advance funding

WASHINGTON— On June 4, 2013, the full House of Representatives passed the fiscal year (FY) 2014 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon/VA) Appropriations bill – H.R. 2216 – by a vote of 421-4. Among its many provisions, this bill would fund homeless programs within the Department of Veterans Affairs at the highest levels in history, meeting President Obama’s FY 2014 budget request for those programs. These funding levels include $300 million for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program and $250 million for the Grant and Per Diem Program.

The House MilCon/VA Appropriations bill would also provide advance funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs in FY 2015. This advance funding for FY 2015 includes $1 billion for VA homeless programs and $5.2 billion in treatment costs for homeless veterans, meeting VA’s full advance budget request for these programs and services.

In order to become law, H.R. 2216 still must be passed by the Senate and signed by the president.

For more information on the House FY 2014 MilCon/VA appropriations bill, click here.

For more information on legislative issues that impact veteran service providers, visit NCHV’s “Policy and Legislation” webpage here.


Congressional Update

NCHV reports on legislation in the United States Congress that would significantly impact veterans and their families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. This page lists bills that were introduced in the 112th Congress, which convened in January 2011 and completed in January 2013. Each bill number links to its summary page on the Library of Congress website, where the bill's full text and record of congressional action can be accessed.

These bills are now inactive; for active legislation, click here.

For more information on legislation in general, go to http://thomas.loc.gov.

  • To contact your Senator, click here.
  • To contact your Congressperson, click here.
  • To review homeless veterans legislation in the 111th Congress, click here.
     

House of Representatives bills

H.R. 136 - To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow taxpayers to designate a portion of their income tax payment to provide assistance to homeless veterans, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY)
Status: Referred to House subcommittee; referred to the Subcommittee on Health (2/18/11)

  • Amends the Internal Revenue Code to allow individual taxpayers to designate on their tax returns $3 of income taxes ($6 in the case of joint returns) to provide assistance to homeless veterans.

H.R. 287 - Homes for Heroes Act of 2011
Sponsor: Rep. Al Green (D-TX)
Status: Referred to House subcommittee; referred to the Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity (3/23/11)

  • Expands the supply of supportive housing for very low-income veteran families.
  • Authorizes an annual budget increase needed to provide 20,000 additional rental vouchers each fiscal year.
  • Extends VA-supported housing, which is currently limited to homeless veterans with chronic mental illness or chronic substance use disorders, to all homeless veterans.

H.R. 806 - End Veteran Homelessness Act of 2011
Sponsor: Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA)
Status: Referred to House subcommittee; referred to the Subcommittee on Health (3/15/11)

  • Increases GPD authorization to $200 million in FY 2011.
  • Changes GPD reimbursement from a "per diem" to an annual cost of providing services.
  • Requires each VA medical center providing case management services through the HUD-VASH program to hire a specialist to handle housing issues, including:
    • Outreach to landlords
    • Mediation of veteran/landlord disputes.
    • Establishing and maintaining a list of available rental units.
  • Authorizes $100 million by FY 2014 for supportive services for very low-income veteran families in permanent housing.
  • Promotes awareness of VA programs to assist homeless women veterans and homeless veterans with children.

H.R. 1133 - Helping Our Homeless Veterans Act of 2011
Sponsor: Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA)
Status: Referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Subcommittee on Health (4/1/11), as well as the Committee on Financial Services, Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity (4/4/11)

  • Authorizes VA to enter into agreements with organizations to collaborate in the provision of case management services to veterans in the HUD-VASH program.

H.R. 1460 - To provide for automatic enrollment of veterans returning from combat zones into the VA medical system, and for other purposes
Sponsor: Rep. Bill Owens (D-NY)
Action: Subcommittee Hearings Held (4/16/12)

  • Provides for automatic enrollment of veterans returning from combat zones into the VA medical system

H.R. 1627 - Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012
Sponsor: Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL)
Action: Passed the Senate with an amendment and an amendment to the title by unanimous consent (7/18/12)

Read NCHV's write-up on this bill's Senate passage here.

  • Increases the authorization for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program to $300 million in FY 2013.
  • Reauthorizes the VA's Enhanced Use Lease program, modifying the previous authority in part by limiting leases to programs that serve homeless and at-risk veterans and their families.
  • Requires VA to study and improve the Grant and Per Diem (GPD) Program reimbursement method.
  • Reauthorizes the GPD Program at $250 million in FY 2013, then at $150 million in each FY thereafter.
  • Reauthorizes the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP) at $50 million in FY 2013.
  • Expands VA’s Special Needs Grant Program to include male homeless veterans with minor dependents.
  • Reauthorizes the Special Needs program at $5 million in FY 2013.

H.R. 3723 - Enhanced Veteran Healthcare Experience Act of 2011
Sponsor: Rep. Robert Schilling (R-IL)
Action: Subcommittee Hearings Held (4/16/12)

  • Replaces VA’s fee-based care system with the contract-based “veterans enhanced care program.”
  • Allows qualified service providers to enter into contracts with VA to serve eligible veterans in areas that are underserved by VA facilities.

H.R. 3895 - Protect VA Healthcare Act of 2012
Sponsor: Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL)
Action: Referred to House committee; referred to the House Committee on the Budget (2/3/12)

  • Amends the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 (Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act) to exclude veterans' medical care accounts from the maximum 2% permissible reduction in budget authority pursuant to a sequestration order.

H.R. 4079 - Safe Housing for Homeless Veterans Act
Sponsor: Rep. David McKinley (R-WV)
Action: Subcommittee Hearings Held (4/16/12)

  • Establish as federal law the existing GPD capital grant regulations require compliance with the Life Safety Code of the National Fire Protection Association, as well as local and state codes and licensing requirements.

H.R. 4287 - To expand the definition of homeless veteran for purposes of benefits under the laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Sponsor: Rep. Janice Hahn (D-CA)
Action: Referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (3/28/12)

  • Expands VA’s definition of “homeless veteran” – for the purpose of benefits eligibility – to include a veteran or veteran’s family fleeing domestic or dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or other dangerous or life-threatening conditions in the current housing situation, including where the health and safety of children are jeopardized, there is no other residence, and there is a lack of resources or support networks to obtain other permanent housing.

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Senate bills

S. 411 - Helping Our Homeless Veterans Act of 2011
Sponsor: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Status: Hearing held by Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (6/8/11)

  • Authorizes VA to enter into agreements with organizations to collaborate in the provision of case management services to veterans in the HUD-VASH program.

S. 1060 - Honoring All Veterans Act of 2011
Sponsor: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
Action: Hearing held by Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (6/8/11)

  • Changes GPD reimbursement from a "per diem" to an annual cost of providing services.
  • Extends enhanced protections for servicemembers relating to mortgages and mortgage foreclosure.

S. 1148 - Veterans Programs Improvement Act of 2011
Sponsor: Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)
Action: Hearing held by Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (6/8/11)

For a full overview of S. 1148, which contains several important provisions, read NCHV's testimony submitted for the committee's record by clicking here (PDF).

  • Reauthorizes critical programs such as the following:
    • DOL-VETS Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP).
    • VA Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program (GPD), as well as the related Special Needs grant program.
    • VA Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program.
  • Orders VA to study and restructure the GPD reimbursement rate.
  • Expands the VA Special Needs grant program to include male homeless veterans with minor dependents, as well as allowing dependents of all veterans in those programs to receive services directly.

S. 1806 - To amend the Internal Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow taxpayers to designate overpayments of tax as contributions to the homeless veterans assistance fund
Sponsor: Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Action: Hearing held by Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (6/27/12)

  • Establishes the Homeless Veterans Assistance Fund in the Treasury
  • Allows individual taxpayers to designate a portion of their tax overpayments to the above fund, which would supplement proven federal programs for homeless and at-risk veterans and their families

S. 2322 - Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2013
Sponsor: Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)
Action: Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders, Calendar No. 359 (4/19/12)

  • Provides $75 million to fund approximately 10,000 new HUD-VASH vouchers

S. 3308 - To improve the furnishing of benefits for homeless veterans who are women or who have dependents
Sponsor: Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)
Action: Hearing held by the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs (6/27/12)

  • Enables veterans' dependents to directly receive services through the GPD Program.
  • Sets aside at least 15 percent of the annual expenditure on GPD Program Capital grants for the Special Needs Grant Program.

S. 3309 - Homeless Veterans Assistance Improvement Act of 2012
Sponsor: Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)
Action: Hearing held by the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs (6/27/12)

Read NCHV's written testimony on this bill here (PDF).

  • Allows Grant and Per Diem (GPD) Program Capital Grant recipients to compete for funding to maintain their facilities.
  • Sets aside at least 1% of SSVF Program funding for providers that will provide "legal services to assist the veteran family with issues that interfere with the family's ability to obtain or retain housing or supportive services."
  • Enables veterans' dependents to directly receive services through the GPD Program.
  • Expands VA authority to provide homeless veteran dental care to HUD-VASH voucher holders.
  • Reauthorizes the GPD Program at $250 million in FY 2013, then $150 million for each fiscal year thereafter.
  • Reauthorizes the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program at $300 million in FY 2013.
  • Reauthorizes the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP) at $50 million in FY 2013.

S. 3049 - To expand the definition of homeless veteran for purposes of benefits under the laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Sponsor: Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK)
Action: Referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (5/9/12)

  • Expands VA’s definition of “homeless veteran” – for the purpose of benefits eligibility – to include a veteran or veteran’s family fleeing domestic or dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or other dangerous or life-threatening conditions in the current housing situation, including where the health and safety of children are jeopardized, there is no other residence, and there is a lack of resources or support networks to obtain other permanent housing.

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Congressional Update

Veteran Homelessness Prevention Platform

March 23, 2009

“With this budget, we … dramatically improve services related to mental health and injuries like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury … And we provide new help for homeless veterans, because those heroes have a home – it's the country they served, the United States of America. And until we reach a day when not a single veteran sleeps on our nation's streets, our work remains unfinished.”   – President Barack Obama, March 16, 2009

In October 2006, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) participated in the National Symposium on the Needs of Young Veterans hosted by AMVETS in Chicago. As a subject matter expert on veterans at risk of homelessness, NCHV engaged in discussions with community-based service providers to identify the most critical needs of veterans returning from Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), and their recommendations on government and community interventions that would reduce those veterans’ risks of becoming homeless.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Labor and their community-based service partners represented by NCHV have developed a nationwide network of assistance programs that has reduced the number of homeless veterans on the streets of America by more than 40% since 2005. The Chicago symposium, however, was one of the earliest national assemblies convened to explore strategies to prevent homelessness among combat veterans returning from war. The insights, client challenges and recommendations of those service providers still serve as the foundation of a comprehensive Veteran Homelessness Prevention Platform.

The recommendations in this document do not necessarily represent NCHV's position on specific legislative initiatives, but are presented to help frame the discussion and development of an effective veteran homelessness prevention strategy.

Causes of Homelessness

Homelessness is the end result of problems that an individual cannot resolve without assistance. Generally, these problems can be grouped into three categories – health issues, economic hardships and lack of affordable housing.

These issues impact all homeless individuals, but veterans face additional challenges when trying to overcome these obstacles: prolonged separation from traditional supports such as family and close friends; highly stressful training and occupational demands that can affect their personality, self esteem and ability to communicate with people in the civilian sector after their separation from military service; and non-transferability of some military occupational specialties into the civilian work force.

NCHV believes the key to veteran homelessness prevention is to help servicemembers plan for their separation from the military – accounting for their health, employment and housing needs – well before their discharge. Just as critical is providing access to assistance to veterans who need help before they lose control of their lives and, ultimately, their homes and families.

Health Care Initiatives

Mental Health – The VA reports that nearly 30% of the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who have sought VA medical care since separating from the military have exhibited potential symptoms of mental and emotional stress. Close to one-half of those have a possible diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Of equal concern was the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that a large percentage of Iraq War veterans whose Post-Deployment Survey responses indicated they were at risk of developing PTSD were not referred to Department of Defense or VA facilities for mental health screening and counseling (GAO Report, May 16, 2006).

Primary and Long-term Rehabilitative Care – While the VA has greatly increased the capacity and services of its nationwide health care system, many communities are under-served by VA programs. Many low-income veterans cannot afford health insurance, and many small and independent businesses do not offer health insurance coverage. These veterans and their families are one major medical problem removed from severe economic hardship that may, and often does, result in an increased risk of homelessness.

Recommendations:

  • There should be a national “open door” policy that ensures access to immediate primary and mental health services to OIF/OEF veterans for five years after discharge in (1) areas that are under-served by VA facilities, (2) for immediate family members of OIF/OEF veterans, and (3) for long-term rehabilitative care. Fee-for-service policies, contracts with approved community and private health care providers in under-served areas or those with insufficient VA capacity to meet demand, and reimbursement by VA to those care providers must not place additional burdens on OIE/OEF veterans and their families.
     
  • All VA medical centers and community-based outpatient clinics (CBOC) should have access to emergency mental health services on a 24/7 basis, whether on site or through approved community mental health programs. This critical support must be real-time, face-to-face.
     
  • Implement universal enrollment in the VA Health Care System before discharge from active duty status, including eligible National Guard and Reserve personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Ensure that a copy of a service member’s medical records be transmitted to the VA Medical Center serving that veteran’s home of record.
     
  • All servicemembers separating from active duty after deployment to Iraq, Afghanistan, or any combat theater, should receive mandatory mental health assessments and be screened for possible traumatic brain injury (TBI), Hepatitis-C, TB, HIV and other illnesses before discharge. Follow-up mental health assessments should be mandatory at six- and one-year intervals after discharge. The VA medical center serving the veteran’s home of record should be responsible for ensuring these follow-up assessments are scheduled, and recording the veteran’s response.
     
  • Servicemembers who, on their Post-Deployment Assessment surveys, are identified as exhibiting signs of emotional or mental strains that could increase their risk of developing PTSD should be advised of that fact so they may ask for and receive proper supports to reduce that likelihood.
     
  • National Veteran Health Insurance Program – Create a program based on a premium sliding scale to make health insurance available and affordable to all veterans and their families regardless of income status.
     
  • Require the VA and Department of Defense to produce public service announcements (PSA) for television, radio, newspapers and magazines informing veterans where they can find assistance, coined as a benefit earned through their military service. Many veterans have no idea what benefits or assistance they are eligible for after their discharge; some are unsure of their veteran status.
     
  • Congress should ensure funding of the VA “Resource Call Center” so that veterans – and their family members – who need assistance receive accurate, helpful information and referrals to VA and community resources in their area on a 24/7 basis.

Income Supports

For young veterans, economic hardships usually involve employment issues and mounting debt. The cost of housing in most communities makes it unlikely that a single wage earner will be able to afford a comfortable and safe rental unit. The recent housing crisis and economic downturn conspire against younger veterans in terms of both housing cost burden and employment security. Though many military occupations prepare veterans for the workforce, many combat arms specialties do not, and this affects younger OIF-OEF veterans more than other age cohorts.

According to an analysis of 2000 Census date performed by Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ) in 2005, about 1.5 million veterans – nearly 6.3% of the nation’s veteran population – have incomes that fall below the federal poverty level, including 634,000 with incomes below 50 percent of the poverty threshold. Many of these veterans have no health insurance or access to education or training programs to increase their earnings potential.

OIF/OEF veterans are entitled to return to their pre-deployment jobs and pay scale under USERRA protection after their discharge, but increasingly many jobs are disappearing because of layoffs and business failures. Veterans who cannot find other employment quickly are in imminent danger of becoming dependent on shared living arrangements or becoming homeless.

Recommendations:

  • Expand and Increase Funding for the Jobs for Veterans Act – The Jobs for Veterans Act enables the Department of Labor to provide veterans with employment preparation assistance and job placement services. There are nearly 2,500 employment specialists working with veterans through the Veterans Employment and Training Service (DOL-VETS). Disabled Veteran Outreach Program (DVOP) specialists help homeless veterans and those at-risk of becoming homeless find gainful employment; and Local Veteran Employment Representatives (LVERs) identify employers who are willing to hire veterans. The Act requires that federal contractors and government agencies give veterans a preference in their hiring policies. Additional funding would increase the number of DOL-VETS employment specialists in the field, create more job opportunities for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and enhance the program’s oversight and enforcement capabilities with respect to veteran preferences.
     
  • Pass emergency legislation to provide unemployment compensation to OIF/OEF veterans who are not protected by USERRA (due to business failures and layoffs) at a percentage of their base military pay for a period of up to 12 months, rather than the current prevailing local rates. Employment protection is one of the guarantees that men and women consider when volunteering to serve in this nation’s military – they should not be penalized for making that sacrifice.
     
  • Implement a program through the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide grants to community organizations providing services to low-income veterans – and their families – in supportive housing. Eligible uses could include child care assistance, counseling and case management, employment supports such as uniforms and training fees, transportation for VA appointments, emergency aid with utility bills, etc.
     
  • Develop a federal certification project for certain trades and occupations that are readily accepted in the states, and DoD and VA should share the cost of certification for OIF/OEF veterans within one year after their discharge.

Access to Housing

According to the 2007 VA Community Homelessness Assessment and Local Education Networking Groups (CHALENG) Report, one of the highest-rated unmet needs among veterans in every region of the country is access to safe, affordable housing. This has been identified as a chronic community problem by many research and public interest groups, as well as government agencies and service providers.

Because of limited public assistance resources, access to public housing is usually subject to a priority system that favors single parents with dependent children, the elderly and persons with disabilities over veterans without an obvious substance abuse, mental illness or other disability. The reality is that in virtually every community in America there is a critical shortage of safe, decent affordable housing for individuals and families with low and extremely low incomes (National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, National Alliance to End Homelessness, the council of Mayors, Harvard University, 2006). This becomes an even greater challenge in light of the more than 1.5 million veterans who live below the federal poverty level – about 6.3% of the men and women who have served in the military (2000 U.S. Census).

Recommendations:

  • Continue to increase the HUD-VA Supportive Housing Program (HUD-VASH) with another 20,000 Section 8 vouchers beyond the 20,000 funded since Fiscal Year 2008. The National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) released an analysis of available data that showed up to 65,000 veterans could be classified as “chronically homeless.” Those are veterans with serious mental illness, chronic substance abuse issues and other disabilities; and they will need supportive housing over a long period, many for the rest of their lives. At a 40,000 voucher level, only two-thirds of this special population would be served. Due to the time it would take to implement program expansion of this scale, reassessment of the need and the program’s success would be ongoing and policy could be revised to reflect that data.
     
  • Pass the Homes For Heroes Act – Originally introduced in the 110th Congress, in the House by Rep. Al Green (D-TX) and the Senate by Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), this measure would make available to low- and extremely low-income veterans and their families 20,000 housing vouchers; fund grants to organizations providing services to low-income veterans in supportive housing; and create the position of Veterans Liaison within the Department of Housing and Urban Development to ensure the needs of low-income and homeless veterans are considered in HUD programs. The measure has been reintroduced in the House this year; a companion bill in the Senate has not yet been filed.
     
  • Full implementation of the VA Enhanced Use Lease (EUL) “Mission Driven Housing” initiative – A critical piece of the strategy to develop supportive housing for homeless veterans and those at risk of becoming homeless. The VA has identified surplus or under-utilized properties at 49 sites that will be made available for project development and lease through a streamlined approval process. Thirty-four of those sites are for homeless housing projects only; the 15 others may include homeless housing and services in development proposals. Eight sites have been announced through the RFP process, the others will be announced as the VA is ready to proceed. This is a historic initiative, and one NCHV believes will have a profound impact on reducing and preventing veteran homelessness.
     
  • Create a national prime rate interest home loan program for OIF/OEF veterans – The VA home loan guarantee program has made home ownership a reality for millions of veterans. However, this program does little for young veterans with modest incomes. A special loan account, administered by a corporate partnership, to provide home loans at well-below market rate for OIF/OEF veterans would help these young veterans qualify for home ownership, allow them to build equity to strengthen their financial stability, and effectively reduce their risk of homelessness by reducing their mortgage payments. Funding institutions could be offered federal tax incentives to offset income loss due to the lower interest rates.
     
  • Develop affordable housing programs for low-income veterans – Every community in the nation should incorporate into their 10-year plans a strategy to develop affordable housing stock to prevent homelessness among its low-income and extremely low-income individuals and families, with a set-aside for veterans in proportion to their representation in the homeless and low-income population estimates. Federal, state and local governments should develop incentives to drive this vital component of homelessness prevention through low-income housing tax credits; awarding of project-based Section 8 vouchers for approved developments; project funding support through the National Housing Trust Fund; formation of local and regional community land trusts; infusion of supportive services dollars through Community Development Block Grants and other funding streams; and tax credits for builders and contractors who work on these projects.
     
  • Expand the Veterans Workforce Investment Program (VWIP) to all 50 states. Currently less than $8 million is distributed by the Department of Labor to 12 grant programs in select states to provide unemployed and under-employed veterans with job training and placement assistance. In view of the re-employment needs of OIF/OEF veterans during the current economic downturn, and considering young combat veterans are most impacted by that downturn, funds from the Recovery Act should be made available to VWIP programs in every state proportionate to the number of work-age unemployed OIF/OEF veterans in each state.

Congressional Update

111th Congress Hot Topics

In order to keep the public better informed and aware about what is being done to help the men and women who served our country, NCHV reports on legislation that impacts homeless veterans and service providers.

Listed below are bills currently before the 111th Congress that, if enacted, would have a significant impact on homeless veterans. Along with a brief summary of the bill’s intent is information about who introduced the bill; where it currently stands; and any future actions, such as hearings or votes, that have been scheduled.

As the end of the second session nears, NCHV has set its sights on two major homeless veteran bills: S. 1237, the Homeless Veterans and Other Veterans Health Care Authorities Act of 2010, and H.R. 4810, the End Veteran Homelessness Act of 2010. Passage of these bills is crucial to effectively ending veteran homelessness in five years. More information on these two bills can be found here (PDF).

For detailed information about these bills, click the bill numbers in the list below. For information on any other legislation, go to http://thomas.loc.gov/.


House Bills

H.R. 147 - "… to allow taxpayers to designate a portion of their income tax payment to provide assistance to homeless veterans…”
Introduced by: Steve Israel (D-NY)
Status: Hearings held by House Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity (March 4, 2009)

  • Amends the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow taxpayers to designate a portion of their income tax payment to provide assistance to homeless veterans.

H.R. 295 - More Training for Veterans Act of 2009
Introduced by: Steve Buyer (R-IN)
Status: Referred to House Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning and Competitiveness

  • Amends the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 to authorize appropriations of $20 million for each fiscal year for veterans' workforce investment programs.

H.R. 403 - Homes for Heroes Act of 2009
Introduced by: Al Green (D-TX)
Action: PASSED BY HOUSE (June 16, 2009)
Status: Referred to Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs

  • Expands the supply of supportive housing for very low-income veteran families.
  • Authorizes an annual budget increase needed to provide 20,000 additional rental vouchers each fiscal year.
  • Extends VA-supported housing – which is currently limited to homeless veterans with chronic mental illness or chronic substance use disorders – to all homeless veterans.

H.R. 1171 - Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program Reauthorization Act of 2009
Introduced by: John Boozman (R-AR)
Action: PASSED BY HOUSE (March 30, 2009)
Status: Referred to Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

  • Reauthorizes the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program for fiscal years 2010 through 2014. The bill was amended to authorize an additional $10 million to provide dedicated services for homeless women veterans and homeless veterans with children. Grants would be made available to provide job training, counseling, placement services, and child care services to expedite the reintegration of veterans into the labor force.

H.R. 2504 - "…to provide for an increase in the annual amount authorized… to carry out comprehensive service programs for homeless veterans.”
Introduced by: Harry Teague (D-NM)
Action: House Subcommittee on Health mark-up session held, bill reported unanimously (Oct. 22, 2009)
Status: Forwarded to Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

  • Provides for increased authorization from $150 million to $200 million to be appropriated for comprehensive service programs (VA Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program) for homeless veterans.

H.R. 2559 - Help Our Homeless Veterans Act
Introduced by: Phil Hare (D-IL)
Action: House Subcommittee on Health mark-up session held, bill reported unanimously (Oct. 22, 2009)
Status: Forwarded to Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

  • Directs the VA Secretary to carry out a national media campaign directed at homeless veterans and veterans at risk of becoming homeless.

H.R. 2735 - "… to make certain improvements to the comprehensive service programs for homeless veterans.”
Introduced by: Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX)
Action: House Subcommittee on Health mark-up session held, bill reported unanimously (Oct. 22, 2009)
Status: Forwarded to Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

  • Makes certain improvements to the comprehensive service programs for homeless veterans, such as:
    • Creating a separate grant fund for service center personnel.
    • Changing the rate of payment from a per diem daily cost of care to an annual cost of providing services.
    • Allowing the VA to increase the rate of payment to reflect the cost of providing services.
    • Allowing providers to use per diem funds to match other funding sources.

H.R. 3219 – Veterans' Benefits Act of 2010
Introduced by: Bob Filner (D-CA)
Status: BECAME PUBLIC LAW NO: 111-275 (Oct. 13, 2010)

  • Reauthorizes the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program through FY 2011.
  • Authorizes $1 million for FY 2011-2015 for the “homeless women veterans and homeless veterans with children reintegration grant program.”

H.R. 3906 – “… to authorize appropriations for the VA program to provide financial assistance for supportive services for very low-income veteran families in permanent housing.”
Introduced by: Harry Teague (D-NM)
Status: Referred to House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (Oct. 22, 2009)

  • Increases the authorization for VA to provide financial assistance for supportive services to prevent homelessness from $50 million to $100 million by FY 2014 and thereafter.

H.R. 4810 – End Veterans Homelessness Act of 2010
Introduced by: Bob Filner (D-CA)
Action: PASSED BY HOUSE (March 22, 2010)
Status: Referred to the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs (March 23, 2010)

  • Contains provisions from H.R. 2504; H.R. 2559, as amended; H.R. 2735, as amended; and H.R. 3906.
  • Increases GPD funding to $200 million in FY 2010.
  • Changes the rate of GPD payment from a “per diem” to an annual cost of providing services.
  • Provides financial assistance for supportive services for very low-income veteran families in permanent housing – $100 million by FY 2014 and thereafter.
  • Ensures that VA medical centers participating in the HUD-VASH program employ or provide one or more specialists, who will perform the following duties:
    • Conduct outreach to landlords.
    • Mediate disputes between veterans and landlords.
    • Establish and maintain a list of available rental units.
    • Carry out other appropriate activities.
  • Coordinates assistance for homeless veterans through HUD’s Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP).


Senate Bills

S. 252 - Veterans Health Care Authorization Act of 2009
Introduced by: Daniel Akaka (D-HI)
Status: Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders - No. 128 (July 24, 2009)

  • Establishes a five-year pilot program to coordinate the provision of supportive services to very low-income, formerly homeless veterans who reside in permanent housing, including permanent housing on property that was once part of a military installation.
  • Establishes a five-year pilot program to inform low-income and elderly veterans and their spouses who reside in rural areas of the veterans’ pension benefits for which they may be eligible.

S. 1160 - Homes for Heroes Act of 2009
Introduced by: Charles Schumer (D-NY)
Status: Referred to Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs (June 1, 2009)

  • Expands the supply of supportive housing for very low-income veteran families (that is, families with incomes not exceeding 50% of the area median income).
  • Amends the U.S. Housing Act of 1937 to (1) make housing rental vouchers available to all homeless veterans, regardless of medical condition, and (2) include veterans in public housing planning.

S. 1237 - Homeless Veterans and Other Veterans Health Care Authorities Act of 2010
Introduced by: Patty Murray (D-WA)
Action: Reported favorably with amendments by the Committee on Veterans' Affairs (April 29, 2010)
Status: Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders (April 29, 2010)

  • Contains provisions of S. 1547 (Zero Tolerance Act).
  • Expands the Grant and Per Diem Program by including male homeless veterans with minor dependents as a new category.
  • Creates a program, authorized at $10 million, to provide employment assistance to women veterans and women veterans with dependent children.

S. 1366 - "… to allow taxpayers to designate a portion of their income tax payment to provide assistance to homeless veterans…”
Introduced by: Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Status: Referred to Senate Committee on Finance (June 25, 2009)

  • Amends the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow taxpayers to designate a portion of their income tax payment to provide assistance to homeless veterans.

S. 1547 - Zero Tolerance for Veterans Homelessness Act of 2009
Introduced by: Jack Reed (D-RI)
Status: Hearings held by Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (Oct. 21, 2009)

  • Expands HUD-VASH to a total of 60,000 housing vouchers for veterans with serious mental and emotional illnesses.
  • Authorizes up to $50 million annually to provide supportive services for low-income veterans to reduce their risks of becoming homeless, and to help those who are find housing.
  • Increases the annual Grant and Per Diem Program authorization to $200 million.

Congressional Update

Appeal to Leadership to Preserve, Advance the Five-Year Plan

5/7/2012

On April 17, 2012, senior leadership of the nation’s Military and Veteran Service Organizations attended a meeting with Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, to discuss the prospect of cuts to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) budget if the agency is not completely exempted from sequestration.

The Congress is required to make significant spending cuts across the board to reduce the federal budget deficit under sequestration beginning January 2013 if it is unable to approve those reductions through the regular budget process. There is increasing speculation that is not likely in this presidential election year.

There are many who believe the VA is essentially exempt from sequestration, based on a 2010 amendment to the 1985 Gramm-Rudman law that exempts “all programs administered by the [VA].”  But another section of the current law contains language that allows up to a 2.0% decrease in certain VA budget authorities – including funding for programs of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). VA homeless veteran assistance programs are funded by VHA.

The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs petitioned the Administration to resolve the issue by clarifying the law to exempt VA from sequestration through the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). OMB released its ruling on April 24, stating VA health programs are completely exempt from sequestration.

While that process ran its course, Rep. Miller filed H.R. 3895, a bill to amend the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985. The bill simply states what many believe was the clear intent of the 2010 amendment to Gramm-Rudman – that all programs of the VA are exempt from sequestration. As of April 24, H.R. 3895 has 38 cosponsors from both sides of the aisle. A companion bill has been filed in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT).

This may be viewed by some as a technical glitch in the legislative process that can be easily resolved.

Yet, it is no small matter. A 2.0% reduction in the VHA budget would mean the loss of billions of dollars for a medical system already strained by the influx of combat veterans from two wars, critical expansion of services to women veterans, significant increases in demand for mental health and rehabilitative services, and the vital resources needed to ensure the success of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s Five-Year Plan to End Veteran Homelessness.

Despite the OMB ruling, the ambiguity in the law remains. The need to eliminate the confusing text in the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act still exists.

Both the House and Senate, and the administration of President Barack Obama, deserve high praise for their service on behalf of the nation’s military service members and veterans. As serious as this issue is, we believe it is perhaps the easiest challenge our leadership will face in continuing to build upon the proud, bipartisan legacy entrusted to them by the American people.

Other Veteran Bills of Note

Increasingly, as the number of homeless veterans in Point-in-Time estimates declines, attention must be focused on preventive strategies. There are a couple of significant bills pending before Congress that clearly herald that evolution. The Enhanced Veteran Healthcare Experience Act of 2011, H.R. 3723, filed by Rep. Bobby Schilling (R-IL), addresses one of the recommendations of service providers attending the National Symposium on the Needs of Young Veterans, hosted by AMVETS  in Chicago in 2006.

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) served as a subject matter expert on homeless veteran assistance programs during the four-day event, and served as the recorder for the sessions on homelessness. One of the most frequently mentioned obstacles to providing quality primary, mental and rehabilitative health services to young veterans and their families was the limitations of the VA fee-basis system.

Providers uniformly hailed the overall quality of VA health care, but said the current system places a significant burden on young and low-income veteran families in many communities without VA health facilities and rural areas. Often veterans needed to travel long distances to apply for benefits, had to wait for authorizations, and were unable to access critical mental health services.

Their recommendation was to establish a contract program between VA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that would identify community health providers that meet VA quality health care standards in areas that are underserved by VA, or in areas where VA facilities are over-burdened, and remove the burden on individual veterans. Providers mentioned this as a priority for combat veterans (mental health services), wounded warriors (long-term rehabilitative supports), and low-income veterans.

Access to quality health care is one of the four critical focuses of the Five-Year Plan to End Veteran Homelessness – along with housing, income security and prevention. It is not difficult to imagine how the Department of Defense (DoD) could magnify the benefits of such a contract program by issuing health care eligibility cards to separating service members returning to those underserved communities.

Automatic enrollment of veterans returning from combat into the VA health care system has been discussed for years, and H.R. 1460, filed by Rep. Bill Owens (D-NY), would make enrollment mandatory. This is an important measure for two reasons: It would enable our nation to build a more comprehensive and responsive record of health care services required by these veterans; and it would likely increase the participation of combat veterans – earlier and in greater numbers – in health programs designed to facilitate smoother transitions back into civilian life.

Both of these measures may need more work on the development end, but few could reasonably argue against the merits of the proposals. The VA and DoD are working to strengthen the support systems in place to foster seamless transition, with homelessness prevention one of the prime objectives. We will be following these bills closely.

We look forward to seeing you at the 2012 NCHV Annual Conference, May 30 to June 1, at the Grand Hyatt Washington. This year’s program will celebrate the remarkable progress we have seen in the Five-Year Plan to End Veteran Homelessness, while focusing on the emerging issues and strategies to accomplish our collective mission.

We’ll see you soon …

John Driscoll
NCHV President and CEO


Congressional Update

FY 2013 Budget Keeps America on Track to End Veteran Homelessness by 2015

2/27/2012

This time last year, Congress had two annual budgets to worry about— the final appropriations for fiscal year (FY) 2011 weren’t completed until mid-April 2011. This year, however, Congress can focus exclusively on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year: FY 2013, which begins on Oct. 1, 2012.

The Obama Administration released its FY 2013 Budget on Feb. 13, 2012. With a 200% increase in the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki is sending a message that his department is committed to not only ending veteran homelessness, but also preventing it.

In June 2011, Secretary Shinseki told attendees at the NCHV Annual Conference: “Our plan today emphasizes rescue and prevention because it must. In time, the plan must transition primarily to prevention.” If funded at the requested level, the SSVF Program – which is the only national, veteran-specific program available to help at-risk men and women veterans from ever becoming homeless – would rival the Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem (GPD) Program and HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program in size.

Here is how four key homeless veteran programs fared in the President’s FY 2013 Budget:

GPD Program, VA
$235 million
$11 million increase over FY 2012

SSVF Program, VA
$300 million
$200 million increase over FY 2012

HUD-VASH Program, HUD and VA
$75 million in new housing vouchers (HUD)
$43 million in additional case management (VA)

Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP), DOL
$38.185 million
No increase over FY 2012

Overall, the Department of Veterans Affairs would spend $1.352 billion on programs that would directly help prevent and end veteran homelessness— a 33% increase over the previous fiscal year. Advance appropriations for FY 2014 would ensure uninterrupted support for these programs, authorizations permitting.

Beyond the figures themselves, these and other homeless veteran programs would be affected in a number of different ways by the President’s FY 2013 Budget. Here is some further insight on each program’s prospects:

Grant and Per Diem Program

The FY 2013 request for the transitional housing program – which has been the foundation of community-based homeless veterans assistance for nearly two decades – is $85 million above the FY 2011 funding level and $11 million above last year’s level. It has been years, however, since VA has released a NOFA for the GPD Program, excluding Special Needs grants.

The ramp-up of the GPD Program correlates with the department’s intention to incorporate a “Transition in Place” model toward permanent housing. The President’s FY 2013 Budget includes a legislative proposal to authorize per diem payments for this activity of 150% of the current per diem rate ($38.90 per day per veteran housed). Entities receiving per diem to execute Transition in Place would be required to replace each VA-funded transitional housing bed converted to permanent housing.

This means that the addition of a permanent bed through Transition in Place would not diminish the overall number of transitional beds offered by the GPD Program, which currently number about 14,000.

Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program

Modeled after HUD’s highly successful Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), the SSVF Program serves low-income veterans and their families residing in or transitioning to permanent housing. Unlike the one-time infusion of HPRP funds, however, SSVF funds do not marginalize veterans: In HPRP’s first year, 2% of adults served were veterans, even though veterans accounted for 16% of the overall adult homeless population in 2009.

The SSVF Program is critical because it serves an at-risk veteran population that is ten times larger than the homeless veteran cohort, yet has no other dedicated funding source for the homelessness prevention services it needs. By funding the program at $300 million in FY 2013, and maintaining this level through the maturity of VA’s Five-Year Plan to End Homelessness among Veterans, there will be an effective system in place to stem the descent into homelessness for veterans and their families.

HUD-VA Supportive Housing Program

If signed into law, the President’s FY 2013 Budget would fund another round of 10,000 HUD-VASH housing vouchers, bringing the total to approximately 58,500. NCHV continues to stress the importance of correctly targeting these vouchers to chronically homeless veterans. It’s the program’s focus on housing the most vulnerable and difficult-to-serve veterans that will enable communities to effectively end veteran homelessness.

Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program

By guaranteeing job placement and retention services for homeless veterans, HVRP plays a critical role in ending veteran homelessness by 2015. For years, the program has failed to be funded at its full authorization level of $50 million. While an investment of $38.185 million, as the President’s FY 2013 Budget requests, is laudable, NCHV does not believe this is sufficient to meet the growing need for this type of assistance.

Department of Labor-Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (DOL-VETS) Acting Assistant Secretary Ismael “Junior” Ortiz has stated that an estimated 10-12 new HVRP grants would be available for FY 2013 under the proposed budget.

Special Need Grants for Homeless Veterans Service Providers

The authorization for this program is currently set to expire at the end of FY 2012. VA has not requested for the program to be reauthorized in its FY 2013 legislative proposals.

Veterans’ Workforce Investment Program (VWIP)

DOL-VETS has not requested any funding for this program in FY 2013. In its budget proposal, the agency states:

“Over the past five years the VWIP cost per placement of a participant into employment has continuously grown to a cost of over $4,700 per placement in Program Year 2010, which ended on June 30, 2011. ... Because of the relatively small number of veterans served and the increasingly high cost of the VWIP program, VETS believes that funds for this program are better directed to programs with stronger accountability measures, including the implementation of new veteran training activities mandated in Pub. Law 112-56 (VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011).”


Congressional Update

Gearing Up for 2012 - The "Critical" Year

2/8/2012

Staff of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans had the privilege of visiting the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans in Philadelphia the week before Christmas. The event served two purposes: to review the progress of the VA Five-Year Plan to End Veteran Homelessness, and to help NCHV plan for the 2012 Annual Conference May 30 - June 1, 2012, at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, D.C.

The theme of this year’s conference is “Halfway Home: Progress in the Plan to End Veteran Homelessness.” Since Secretary Eric Shinseki announced the Five-Year Plan in November 2009, it has been VA leadership that most often mentions the “countdown,” a testament to VA’s commitment to the plan. On the walls of the main conference room at the National Center, we saw it all laid out in striking clarity.

Center Director Vincent Kane and lead researcher Dennis Culhane, along with other center staff, spent most of the day with us. We pored over the research that justifies the performance goals of the plan and informs the policy shifts necessary to ensure its success. And we spoke candidly about some of the speed bumps the VA and its community-based partners have encountered during the early stages of plan implementation.

We discussed the recently released 2011 Point in Time estimates of homeless persons reported to Congress in the HUD Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR), which showed a 12% decrease in veteran homelessness between 2010 and 2011. We then compared that result with existing capacity in the veteran service community.

Center staff generally agrees the decrease is largely due to the successful lease-up of HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers. And we all acknowledged the decline is also dependent upon the success of VA Grant and Per Diem (GPD) programs, which are holding the line against increases in veteran homelessness despite continued economic stagnation, the housing crisis, high veteran unemployment and major troop withdrawals from Iraq. These issues have conspired against the Five-Year Plan since its inception, yet the steady declines in veteran homelessness attest to the early success in plan implementation.

“There is no doubt this (2012) is the ‘critical’ year in the plan,” said Center Director Kane. He was speaking about program enhancements, but also about federal agency and Congressional support. “We are so close to where we need to be, but we need to ensure adequate resources to see it (the plan) through.”

The opening of the 2012 NCHV Annual Conference will mark the unofficial midway point of the Five-Year Plan. By then we expect to have reported on funding measures for the major homeless veteran programs for FY 2013. Spending authorizations for FY 2012 represent the largest federal investment in the campaign to end veteran homelessness in U.S. history.

Credit for that begins with President Barack Obama, who has made good on his promise to end veteran homelessness and has consistently included record funding increases for veteran assistance programs in his budget requests. Congress deserves high praise for its bipartisan support of those programs, a legacy that has been forged over two decades. It follows through to VA leadership and community providers that have helped regionalize the Five-Year Plan according to local needs and service assets.

With assistance from the staff at the National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, NCHV’s policy priorities for 2012 have come into sharper focus, and we agree this will be a “critical” year in the Five-Year Plan to End Veteran Homelessness.

Housing

The 11,000 HUD-VASH vouchers funded in FY 2012 will bring the total authorized since 2008 to nearly 50,000, or approximately 83% of the original target. These vouchers are designed to provide permanent housing and supportive services for veterans with serious mental illness and other disabilities, and extreme low-income veteran families with dependent children. Building the program to 60,000 vouchers – which will remain available for veterans in crisis when current beneficiaries advance out of the program – is vital to address the housing needs of chronically homeless veterans and those at high risk of homelessness.

There is an even greater need for permanent housing beyond the HUD-VASH program, however. According to VA research about half the veterans exiting the VA Grant and Per Diem program do not obtain permanent housing, despite successfully completing their self-improvement programs and gaining employment. The main reason for that is lack of affordable housing in most American communities.

Research also shows one in 10 veterans living in poverty is at high risk of becoming homeless. At the launch of the Five-Year Plan, some VA officials estimated approximately 90,000 units of permanent housing would be needed to ensure the success of the plan.

In July 2011, NCHV and The Home Depot Foundation – with the cooperation of VA and HUD – hosted the “Veteran Access to Housing Summit” in San Antonio. More than 125 leading authorities on veteran services, housing and project finance gathered to explore ways to increase the availability of affordable housing to low-income and extreme low-income veterans. You can read the report from Summit participants here.

Prevention Assistance

One of the new frontiers in the campaign to end veteran homelessness, prevention assistance is a key component of the Five-Year Plan. The VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program is entering its second year, and approximately $100 million in aid will be administered by community-based partners. Assistance will come in the form of short-term rental and mortgage assistance, rapid re-housing assistance for families that become homeless, housing-search and some relocation expenses, and other aid to keep veterans in crisis housed.

The program is modeled after the highly successful Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing fund, a $1.5 billion program that helped avert or end homelessness for nearly one million families nationwide and one of the major reasons a decrease in family homelessness was reported in the 2011 AHAR. Unfortunately, for various reasons, veteran participation in that assistance program was extremely low.

NCHV will be monitoring and reporting on the success of the SSVF program. We believe the $100 million authorization level is low compared to the actual need. More than 1.4 million veteran families live in poverty throughout the United States, and as previously mentioned about 10 percent of them are at high risk of becoming homeless. We believe this program, in order to achieve its goals under the Five-Year Plan and effectively prevent veteran homelessness in the short term, should be funded at the $300 million level through the maturity of the plan (2015). This would also help address the lack of veteran access to HPRP assistance. SSVF program success and Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS) data will help determine funding needs for 2016 and beyond.

Income Security and Employment

The recently passed extension of unemployment benefits and VOW to Hire Heroes Act will help promote the income security of thousands of veterans who could be considered at high risk of homelessness for economic reasons. But no program has been more effective helping homeless veterans obtain and maintain employment at livable wages than the Department of Labor’s Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP).

Administered by the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) for more than 20 years, HVRP has served as the nation’s only employment program wholly dedicated to serving homeless veterans. Each year more than 14,000 veterans, most with serious and multiple barriers to re-entering the workforce, find employment at an average wage exceeding $10 per hour, at a cost of about $2,600 per placement. HVRP is one of the most successful, cost-effective programs in the DOL services portfolio.

HVRP is so successful because it is not simply an employment assistance initiative. The program guarantees homeless veterans job placement and job retention services, and most grantees also provide residential stability, health services and counseling supports. Grantee eligibility for continued funding is based on how well they meet or exceed their contractual performance objectives. HVRP has been authorized at $50 million per year since 2005, yet in FY 2012 the program will receive about $38 million.

As important as housing and health services are in the campaign to end veteran homelessness, employment and other income security is the key to maintaining one’s health and home. Now that we understand poverty is one of the principle predictors of veteran homelessness, employment is clearly one of the most important needs of low-income veterans. HVRP should be funded at its authorized level, and that level may need to be increased if veteran unemployment remains at near record highs.


Congressional Update

12/30/2007

Public Policy Action

During 2007, NCHV worked with Members of Congress and their staffs to ensure as many components of NCHV’s public policy priorities as possible were enacted before the first session of the 110th Congress ended in December.

Appropriations

Before adjournment, Congress approved and sent to President Bush the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008, legislation that included eleven of the twelve annual funding bills. The bill became Public Law 110-161 on December 26, 2007.

The law includes three provisions that enhance homeless veterans programs. Under the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs appropriations section, not less than $130 million shall be expended for the homeless grants and per diem program. The VA Department’s Homeless Grant and Per Diem (GPD) Program provides competitive grants to community-based, faith-based, and public organizations to offer transitional housing or service centers for homeless veterans.

The Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations section provides funding for two Department of Labor Veterans Employment and Training programs including the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP) and the Veterans Workforce Investment Programs (VWIP). The funding level is at $31,522,000 of which $7,482,000 is targeted for VWIP. HVRP is the only federal program wholly dedicated to providing employment assistance to homeless veterans and provides competitive grants to community-based, faith-based, and public organizations. VWIP provides grants to states and community-based, faith-based, and local public organizations to offer workforce services targeted to veterans with service connected disabilities, with active duty experience in a war or campaign, recently separated from the service, or facing significant barriers to employment (including homelessness). 

The Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations section includes $75 million for 7,500 incremental vouchers for the joint HUD-VA Supported Housing Program (HUD-VASH) for homeless and disabled veterans. HUD-VASH provides permanent housing and ongoing treatment services to the harder-to-serve homeless mentally ill veterans and those suffering from substance abuse disorders.

VA Homeless Veterans Assistance Program Bills

No further action occurred in the House or Senate on two VA homeless veterans assistance program bill. In July, the House passed H.R. 2874, Veterans Health Care Improvement Act of 2007. S. 1233, Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitation Act of 2007, awaits consideration by the Senate. Both bills would expand and extend authority for the Incarcerated Veterans’ Transition Program (IVTP), a joint DOL and VA initiative authorized by Congress to assist veterans incarcerated in their reentry to the community; 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; and provide for permanent authority for domiciliary services for homeless veterans and enhance the VA’s capacity to provide domiciliary care for women veterans.

S. 1233 would also repeal authority for adjustments to per diem payments to homeless veteran service centers for receipt of other sources of income; make grant funds available to maintain adequate staffing for services in homeless veteran service centers; and require VA to conduct a demonstration program to identify veterans at risk of becoming homeless after discharge or separation from the armed services and provide referral and counseling services to help prevent such veterans from becoming homeless.  H.R. 2874 would also 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.

Permanent Supportive Housing for Low Income Veterans

On December 5, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity conducted a hearing on Affordable Housing Needs of America’s Low Income Veterans. NCHV Chair George Basher testified along with HUD, VA and GAO officials and representatives from national housing and homeless groups and veteran service organizations. During the hearing, H.R. 3329, the Homes for Heroes Act of 2007, and H.R. 4161, the Veterans Homelessness Prevention Act, both introduced by Representative Al Green (D-9th-TX), a Financial Services Housing Subcommittee member, were discussed.

H.R. 3329 (also S. 1084 introduced by Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)), would establish a supportive housing program for very low-income veterans, with housing assistance financed by HUD and supportive services financed by VA. H.R. 4161, a reduced version of the Homes for Heroes Act of 2007, would establish a pilot supportive housing program for very low-income veterans. Senator Obama introduced the same bill (S. 2330) in the Senate.


Congressional Update

4/10/2008

Congress begins work on FY09 Budget

Since the release of the President’s FY09 Budget in early February, Congress has been developing its response to the President request.  On March 14, the House and Senate each passed their FY09 budget resolutions. The House resolution, H.Con.Res. 312, passed 212-207, with no Republican support, and the Senate resolution, S.Con.Res. 70, passed 51-44, again mostly on party lines. 

The House resolution would provide $22 billion more in discretionary spending than President Bush’s budget request, and the Senate resolution would provide $18 billion more. Both resolutions increase veterans funding for 2009 by $3.6 billion (8 percent) above current services.

With respect to homeless veterans, both House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees submitted as part of its Views and Estimates to the respective Congressional Budget Committees, recommendations for funding levels to be increased to the authorized level of $130 million for the Grant and per Diem program.

NCHV was invited to testify at a hearing regarding the FY 2009 budget, conducted by the House Veterans Affairs Committee on February 7.  Highlights of the testimony included a request to increase the authorization level to $200 million for the Grant and Per Diem Program; additional funding for Special Needs grants; and increased funding to provide supportive services for the newly-expanded HUD-VASH Program.  The complete testimony is printed on the NCHV website under Policy & Legislation (Testimony).

House and Senate Appropriations Committees have also begun their work on FY2009 appropriations.  As part of this process, on March 13 NCHV was invited to testify before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs.  NCHV’s testimony contained recommendations similar to those presented to the House Veterans Affairs Committee.  The complete testimony appears on the NCHV website.

VA Homeless Veteran Assistance Programs

Before the end of the 110th Congress, Representative Michael Michaud, Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Health Subcommittee, plans to introduce legislation to enhance VA homeless veterans assistance programs. To learn more about the success of current programs and what’s needed to increase effectiveness, the Committee conducted hearings on April 9 at which NCHV, representatives from four homeless veteran service providers and the VA testified.  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.  The full testimony appears on the NCHV website.

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.  George Basher, NCHV Chair presented testimony at a hearing of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Community Development, which focused on H.R. 3329.  The Senate Banking Committee, to which S. 1084 was referred, has not yet taken up the bill although a hearing has been requested.

For all legislation currently pending in Congress, log onto NCHV’s website under Policy & Legislation (110th Congress Hot Topics).


Congressional Update

8/1/2008

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.

McKinney-Vento Reauthorization

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.


Congressional Update

9/9/2008

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.

Signatory Organizations

Goodwill Industries International
National Coalition for Homeless Veterans
The Salvation Army
Volunteers of America


Congressional Update

10/7/2008

Congress Passes Stopgap Spending Measure and VA Health Legislation

On September 27, the Senate passed a $630 billion piece measure to fund the government into the new fiscal year (FY), which began October 1. The House passed the same legislation on September 24 and President Bush signed the legislation on September 30. The bill funds the government until March 2009. Congress is scheduled to return November 17 for a lame duck session although the agenda is unclear.

The legislation, H.R. 2638, includes a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government through March 6 at FY 2008 levels, with some exceptions. Attached to the CR were the complete FY 2009 appropriations bills for Defense, Homeland Security, and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs. Other FY 2009 appropriations bills will be considered when the new 111th Congress convenes.

Regarding homeless veteran assistance provisions. the bill provides an additional $7,500,000 for Homeless Grant and Per Diem (GPD) liaisons; an additional $8,000,000 to restore the GPD program to the fully authorized level of $130,000,000; an additional $30,000,000 for the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program to address any increase in the number of vouchers authorized and directs the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to increase the number of caseworkers as necessary to accommodate the increase in vouchers. The VA is directed to provide at least $5,000,000 for caseworkers if the Department of Housing and Urban Development creates a demonstration program to test methods of homeless prevention among the veteran population.

VA Health Bill Passed by Congress

On September 24 the House passed the Veterans' Mental Health Improvements Act of 2008, S. 2162, which makes various improvements to veterans’ health care and other forms of health care. The Senate passed the same legislation on September 27 and sent the bill to the White House where the President signed it on October 10 and it became Public Law No: 110-387.

Regarding homeless veterans assistance programs, the bill increases the authorization level from $130 million to $150 million for the GPD program and authorizes the VA to make financial assistance available to nonprofit organizations to facilitate their provision of supportive services to low income veterans in permanent supportive housing. The focus of this provision is to prevent veterans from becoming homeless. The bill also expands and extends through FY 2011 the incarcerated veterans transition program, which helps formerly incarcerated veterans reintegrate into society through employment counseling and other services. S. 2162 also enhances the VA’s capacity to provide domiciliary care for women veterans.


Congressional Update

2/26/2009

Public Policy Action

The inauguration of President Barack Obama on Jan. 20 marked the beginning of a new Administration and a new year for the 111th Congress. Since then Congress has focused primarily on two activities—conducting Committee confirmation hearings for President Obama’s appointees for Cabinet secretary positions and developing an economic stimulus bill, which was enacted in mid-February.

New DOL Secretary Hilda SolisVA, HUD and DOL Secretary Appointments

Regarding approval of Cabinet secretaries, at this time, the three federal agencies with which NCHV works most closely have new leaders. Retired U.S. Army General Eric K. Shinseki was nominated by President Barack Obama on Dec. 7, 2008, to serve as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. His nomination was confirmed by the Senate on Jan. 20, 2009, and sworn in as the seventh Secretary of Veterans Affairs on Jan. 21, 2009. Prior to his VA appointment, Secretary Shinseki served as Chief of Staff, United States Army, from 1999 to June 11, 2003, and retired from active duty on Aug. 1, 2003.

At the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Shaun Donovan was sworn in as the 15th United States Secretary for Housing and Urban Development on Jan. 26, 2009. Secretary Donovan previously served as Commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

On Jan. 9, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions conducted confirmation hearings for Secretary of the Department of Labor (DOL) designate, Hilda L. Solis, Democratic House of Representatives Congresswoman from California’s 32nd District. The Committee approved Ms. Solis as nominee for the DOL Secretary position on February 11 and confirmed by the Senate as Secretary of Labor on Feb. 24, 2009. Prior to confirmation, Secretary Solis represented the 32nd Congressional District, a position she held from 2001 - 2009.

Economic Stimulus Package

On Feb. 13, Congress passed HR 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. This legislation totals $787 billion and is designed to stimulate the economy, create jobs, and help strengthen the safety net for Americans, including homeless Americans. The final version of bill contains a number of provisions related to housing and poverty, including:

  • $1.5 billion for homeless prevention activities, which will be allocated to states, cities and local governments through the emergency shelter grant formula;
  • $100 million to the FEMA Emergency Food and Shelter Grant Program 
  • $4 billion to the public housing capital fund to enable local public housing agencies to address a $32 billion backlog in capital needs -- especially those improving energy efficiency in aging buildings;
  • $1 billion for the Community Development Block Grant program for community and economic development projects including housing and services for those hit hard by tough economic times;
  • $250 million is included for energy retrofitting and green investments in HUD-assisted housing projects;
  • $2.25 billion through HOME and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program to fill financing gaps caused by the credit freeze and get stalled housing development projects moving;
  • $2 billion for full-year payments to owners receiving Section 8 project-based rental assistance;
  • $2 billion for the redevelopment of abandoned and foreclosed homes;
  • $19.9 billion for additional Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly Food Stamps, to increase benefit levels by 13.6 percent;
  • Continuation of the extended unemployment benefits program (which provides up to 33 weeks of extended benefits) through December 2009;
  • One-time payments of $250 to Social Security beneficiaries, SSI recipients, and veterans receiving disability compensation and pension benefits from the VA; and
  • Extension of the moratorium on all 7 Medicaid regulations.

President Obama signed the bill into law on Feb. 17.

FY 2009 Appropriations

Last September, President Bush signed into law a $630 billion continuing resolution (CR), which funds the government until March 6, 2009 at FY 2008 levels with some exceptions. Attached to the CR were the complete FY 2009 appropriations bills for Defense, Homeland Security, and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs. Appropriators will include the other FY 2009 appropriations bills in an omnibus bill, which will be taken up by Congress in late February or early March.


Congressional Update

5/6/2009
FY 2009 Appropriations

  • Homeless Assistance Grants: $1.67 billion in record resources, about $90 million above the 2008 level. At least 30% of the awarded funds, with the exception of renewals of Shelter Plus Care, will continue to be for permanent housing.
  • Homeless Veterans Demonstration: A new $10 million HUD-VA-DOL interagency collaboration urban and rural veterans demonstration on preventing homelessness. Funding for the demonstration is to be used for housing and appropriate services to prevent veterans and their families from becoming homeless or reduce the length of time veterans and their families are homeless. Funding will be used by selected grantees to help veterans, as well as any dependent family members, find and maintain housing, including up to 18 months of rental assistance, first and last month's rent, back rent or other related services as appropriate.

    HUD is directed to choose a limited number of urban and rural sites to carry out the veterans demonstration. In selecting sites, HUD is to evaluate the rate of homelessness among veterans in the area, and the experience of the grantees in coordinating with Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Labor to enable veterans to access mainstream programs. Of the sites selected, up to three are to have a high number of service members separating from the military and transitioning into civilian life. HUD is also to select up to four sites located in rural areas to evaluate how to effectively serve veterans in rural areas, many of whom may have been part of the National Guard, may have limited access to the Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers, and may have dependent family members.
  • Demonstration Programs: Renewal of demonstration awards, such as the recently awarded demonstration grants for rapid re-housing for families, by providing that the Secretary may renew grants made under the demonstration program and may treat such original grants and any renewal grants as if these grants were made under the Supportive Housing Program.
  • HUD-VASH: $75 million is included for an estimated 10,000 new vouchers in the HUD-VASH program for homeless veterans.

Key highlights of the Department of Labor veterans programs:

  • DOL Veterans Employment and Training: DOL-VETS programs are funded at $239.4 million, $11.3 million above the FY 2008 funding level.
  • Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program: The DOL-VETS program for homeless veterans employment is funded at $26.3 million, a $2.7 million increase.
  • Veterans Workforce Investment Program: The DOL-VETS program that addresses veterans employment and training is funded at $7.6 million, a $.3 million increase.

Last September FY 2009 appropriations bills for the Departments of Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, and Defense were signed into law. That measure included an additional $7.5 million for VA's Homeless Grant and Per Diem (GPD) liaisons, an additional $8 million which brought the GPD to its full authorization level of $130 million, and an additional $30 million for the HUD-VASH program for any increase in authorized vouchers (directing VA to increase caseworkers if needed for the increase in vouchers). VA was directed to provide at least $5 million for caseworkers for the HUD demonstration program of homeless prevention among the veteran population.

DOL Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program Reauthorization

On March 30 the House of Representatives passed H. R. 1171, the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program Reauthorization Act of 2009, which reauthorizes the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program for fiscal years 2010 through 2014. Introduced by Representative John Boozman (R-AR-3), the bill was amended to authorize an additional $10 million to provide dedicated services for homeless women veterans and homeless veterans with children.  Grants would be made available to provide job training, counseling, placement services, and child care services to expedite the reintegration of veterans into the labor force. Earlier in March NCHV testified before the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity expressing support for the bill.

Homeless Veterans Assistance Fund

During the March  4 House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity hearing, NCHV also provided comments regarding H.R. 147, a bill introduced by Representative Steve Israel (D-2-NY).  The legislation would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow taxpayers to designate a portion of their income tax payment to provide assistance to homeless veterans through a Homeless Veterans Assistance Fund. The Fund would be a trust fund established in the Treasury of the United States. Giving conditional support for the bill, NCHV was asked to work with Representative Israel’s staff to develop comprehensive guidelines for the Homeless Veterans Assistance Fund.

Veterans Permanent Supportive Housing

To address the need to establish permanent supportive housing for veterans, Representative Al Green (D-TX) has reintroduced H.R. 304, the Homes for Heroes Act of 2009, a bill that would provide permanent supportive housing for low income veterans.  In the 110th Congress the bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 412-9. A companion bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate in early May.

On March 11, President Barack Obama signed into law, P.L. 111-8, an omnibus bill containing the remaining FY 2009 appropriations bills. Provisions contained in this legislation added new targeted and mainstream resources to prevent and end homelessness in the nation.


Congressional Update

6/25/2009
FY 2010 Budget

Department of Veterans Affairs Homeless Veterans Assistance Programs

On May 7, President Obama released the FY2010 budget for all federal agencies including those directly involved with providing homeless veterans assistance programs.  The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) referred to its new budget as “a Veteran-centric commitment to expanded services with a 15.5 percent increase over 2009, the largest percentage increase for VA requested by a president in more than 30 years.”

Grant and Per Diem
Through the Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem (GPD) program, VA assists community-based organizations with the provision of services for homeless veterans. GPD provides operational costs, as well as partial capital costs, to create and sustain transitional housing and service programs for homeless veterans. With an increase to nearly $144 million in FY 2010, VA will continue the development of these services and offer both grants and per diem funding.

In FY 2010 VA will also continue to fund community-based organizations that offer services for special needs populations including the chronic mentally ill, elderly, terminally ill, and homeless women veterans, including women veterans with children.

Technical assistance funding will be continued in FY 2010 to help community-based entities with establishing new programs for homeless veterans or improving upon their existing programs’ abilities and capacities.

HUD-VASH
FY 2008 funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and VA allowed expansion of the HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program by adding 10,105 new Section 8 “Housing Choice” vouchers. HUD-VASH is a collaborative effort supported through HUD Section 8 “Housing Choice” rental assistance vouchers and VA’s provision of intensive case management services. The primary goal of HUD-VASH is to move veterans and their families out of homelessness and into permanent housing.

VA, in partnership with HUD, plans further expansion of HUD-VASH in 2010 by adding an additional 10,000 vouchers and the appropriate complement of case management services to sustain the program. Expansion will include urban and rural municipalities.

Veteran Homelessness Prevention Program
VA requested $26 million in FY 2010 to support a pilot program that will involve partnering with nonprofits, consumer co-ops and other agencies to assist veteran families that might otherwise become homeless. The program will focus on providing supportive services specifically designed to prevent homelessness. These pilots will be coordinated with the related homelessness programs of other relevant agencies, and encompass both rural and urban sites with the goal of preventing homelessness and maintaining housing stability for the veteran’s family.

Supportive services to low-income veterans in permanent housing
In 2010 VA plans to begin implementation of supportive services for low-income veterans living in permanent housing. VA will provide grants to community and faith-based agencies to assist low-income veterans and their families by providing case management and other supportive services to help prevent the onset of homelessness. VA will develop program regulations and guidance in 2009 and award grants for the program in 2010.

Stand Down
Outreach efforts receive significant support from locally held Stand Down programs. VA organized 143 Stand Downs in 2007 and 152 in 2008. These community-based collaborations have served hundreds of thousands of Veterans and their family members since they began in1988.VA is planning to expand outreach efforts to provide “inreach” services within local VA medical centers and community-based outpatient clinics to assist veterans and their families who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Incarcerated veterans
VA implemented an incarcerated veteran prison re-entry initiative designed to prevent homelessness, substance abuse, mental illness, and criminal recidivism in 2007. During 2008, over 5,000 re-entry Veterans were served in over 450 State and Federal prisons. Also in 2008, VA began developing prevention efforts to serve veterans in the early stages of involvement with police and courts. This work culminated with the planning and completion of a National Veterans Justice Outreach Conference in December 2008, and a yearlong collaboration with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) on a six state veteran-focused trauma intervention initiative. The initiative will continue through 2009.

VA plans to begin implementation of supportive services for low-income
veterans living in permanent housing as authorized in Public Law 110-387. VA will provide grants to community and faith-based agencies to assist low-income
veterans and their families by providing case management and other supportive
services to help prevent the onset of homelessness. VA will develop program
regulations and guidance in 2009 and award grants for the program in 2010.

Department of Labor

The Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) provides veterans and transitioning service members with the resources and services to succeed in the civilian workforce by maximizing their employment opportunities, protecting their employment rights and meeting labor market demands with qualified veterans.

Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program
The Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program (HVRP) was the first nationwide Federal program focused on placing homeless veterans into jobs. Through competitive grant awards to eligible organizations, the HVRP provided employment and training services to an estimated 14,000 homeless veterans in FY 2008 at an average cost of $1,560. DOL has requested a $9 million funding increase to $35.3 million for the program in FY 2010. This will allow VETS to serve an additional 7,200 homeless veterans.

Veterans’ Workforce Investment Program
The Veterans’ Workforce Investment Program (VWIP) activity supports efforts to ensure veterans’ lifelong learning and skills development in programs designed to serve current eligible and targeted veteran subgroups with severe employability barriers. VWIP is a program year, competitive grant program where funds are awarded to veterans and eligible persons with emphasis on Special Disabled veterans, and veterans with other barriers to employment. In FY 2010 funding for VWIP will increase to $9.6 million, a $2 million funding increase. About 4,600 participants are targeted to receive employment and training services through this program in FY 2010, which provides competitive grants to various eligible organizations.

Department of Housing and Urban Development

The Department of Housing and Urban Development FY 2010 budget contained no new funding for the HUD-VASH program.  However, the budget contains recommendations that will restore federal leadership on promoting affordable rental housing including capitalizing the Housing Trust Fund with $1 billion, increasing funding for Section 8 tenant based rental vouchers, enhancing funding for Section 8 project based rental assistance, and increasing funding for Homeless Assistance Grants, which are designed to help prevent homelessness.

Update on Federal Legislation

Veterans Permanent Supportive Housing
Legislation to address the need to establish permanent supportive housing for low-income veterans passed the House of Representatives on June 16 by a vote of 417-2.  H.R. 403, the Homes for Heroes Act of 2009 was reintroduced in January by Representative Al Green (D-TX) and would serve to prevent low-income veterans from becoming homeless. On June 1, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) introduced a companion bill, S. 1160 in the Senate.

Homeless Veterans Assistance and Employment Programs
Four new bills have been introduced in the House and the Senate that would increase funding for and enhance the VA GPD Program, expand employment programs to include women veterans and those with children, and help prevent homelessness among all veterans. 

Regarding the GPD program, on May 19 Representative Harry Teague (D-NM) introduced H.R. 2504, which would provide for increased authorization from $150 million to $200 million for the GPD program. On June 4, Representative Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX) introduced H.R. 2735, which would create a separate grant fund for service center personnel, change the rate of GPD payment from a per diem daily cost of care to an annual cost of providing services, allow VA to increase the rate of payment to reflect the cost of providing services, and allow providers to use per diem funds to match other funding sources.  Both bills have been referred to the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

In the Senate, on June 11, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced S.1237, the Homeless Women Veterans and Homeless Veterans with Children Act of 2009. The bill would include male homeless veterans with minor dependents as a new category eligible for the special needs grant, which is funded under the GPD program. S. 1237 was referred to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

To increase employment opportunities for women veterans, S. 1237 also creates a DOL program that would provide employment assistance to women veterans and to women veterans with children.  Authorized spending is $10 million.

To help prevent homelessness among veterans, on May 21 Representative Phil Hare (D-IL) introduced H.R. 2559, the Help Our Homeless Veterans Act, which would direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to carry out a national media campaign directed at homeless veterans and veterans at risk from becoming homeless. The bill was referred to the House Veterans Affairs Committee.


Congressional Update

10/8/2009

NCHV Legislative Priorities – 111th Congress First Session

Legislators are currently working on the most ambitious veteran assistance agenda since the end of World War II. President Obama’s focus on homeless veteran programs as a priority of his administration, and the anticipated increased investment in homeless veteran assistance and prevention initiatives by several federal agencies, have ushered in an era of activism and opportunity for the organizations this coalition represents.

No fewer than 14 bills have been introduced in either the House of Representatives or the Senate in the first session of the 111th Congress that promise to have a direct impact on the delivery of housing assistance and supportive services to veterans in crisis. Some would significantly increase funding for well-established homeless veteran assistance programs; some would provide support for local veteran homelessness prevention strategies for the first time in U.S. history.

Service providers and networks are encouraged to contact their Senators and Representatives to voice their support for these critical measures to end and prevent veteran homelessness.

Homes for Heroes Act of 2009 – (H.R. 403, S. 1160)

Introduced in the House by Rep. Al Green (D-TX), and in the Senate by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), the Homes for Heroes Act would:

  • Provide $200 million annually for the development of supportive housing for veterans who need case management and wrap-around services to remain housed
  • Fund 20,000 rental assistance vouchers for extremely low-income veteran families (those living at or below 50 percent of the federal poverty level), estimated at approximately 630,000 veterans. Many, if not most, communities continually report a shortage of both housing types, which undermines local efforts to end and prevent homelessness.
  • Create the position of veteran liaison within the Department of Housing and Urban Development to ensure veteran inclusion in all HUD housing programs, and require inclusion of veteran data in local housing plans

The act passed in the House without opposition for the second year in a row, 417-2, and has been referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. The Senate bill has 7 cosponsors.

Zero Tolerance for Veterans Homelessness Act of 2009 – (S. 1547)

Introduced by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), S. 1547 is a comprehensive measure with a strong focus on prevention. The act would:

  • Provide $50 million annually to help low-income veterans remain in their housing and help homeless veterans obtain housing through short- and medium-term rental assistance, security and utilities deposits, housing search and relocation costs, and assistance repairing damaged credit reports
  • Provide for an annual increase of 10,000 HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers until 2013, for a total of 60,000 in each fiscal year (FY) thereafter
  • Ease restrictions on financing development of transitional housing utilized in the VA Grant and Per Diem Program (GPD), and call for the VA to study and report to Congress on recommended revisions in the GPD payment to reflect the cost of providing comprehensive services to homeless veterans rather than a “daily” reimbursement based on the prevailing state veteran home rate
  • Increase GPD authorization to $200 million per year – as would H.R. 2504, introduced in the House by Rep. Teague (D-NM)
  • Call for the establishment of a veteran liaison in HUD

S. 1547 has 10 cosponsors and has been referred to the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Homeless Veterans Assistance Fund – (H.R. 147, S. 1366)

Introduced in the House by Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) and in the Senate by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), these bills would amend the Internal Revenue Service Code to allow taxpayers to designate $3 of their federal return for the Homeless Veterans Assistance Fund. This fund would be used to provide additional support for community- and faith-based organizations providing services to homeless veterans.

Of note in the legislation text: “Expenditures- Amounts in the Homeless Veterans Assistance Fund shall be available, as provided in appropriation Acts, only for the purpose of providing assistance to homeless veterans. Such amounts shall be used to supplement, not supplant, existing funding for such assistance.”

H.R. 147 has 84 cosponsors and was referred to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, which held hearings, and to the Committee on Ways and Means. S. 1366 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Finance.
VA Grant and Per Diem Program – (H.R. 2504, H.R. 2735)

H.R. 2504, introduced in the House by Rep. Harry Teague (D-NM), would increase the appropriation for the Grant and Per Diem Program (GPD) in FY 2010 from $150 million to $200 million (also included in S. 1547). The bill was referred to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

H.R. 2735, introduced by Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX), calls for several revisions in GPD funding policies: establishment of a grant for service center (drop-in center) staffing, viewed by service providers as a critical community outreach and prevention initiative; allowing GPD awards to be considered as matching funds for other grants for which organizations may be eligible; and changing from a “daily cost of care” payment system to one based on the annual cost of the services provided to assist homeless veterans. H.R. 2735 has been referred to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Subcommittee on Health.

VA Homeless Prevention Program – (H.R. 3073)

Introduced in the House by Rep. Glenn Nye (D-VA), this bill would create a grant program in the Department of Veterans Affairs to help veterans in imminent danger of becoming homeless due to rent or mortgage arrears. Eligible veterans would receive up to three months of assistance to avoid foreclosure or eviction. The measure calls for an annual authorization of $100 million through FY 2013. Referred to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Subcommittee on Health.

Other significant bills pending in the 111th Congress include:

Veterans Health Care Authorization Act of 2009 – (S. 252)

Introduced in the Senate by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), this comprehensive bill contains provisions to fund pilot programs that provide services to formerly homeless veterans residing in military housing (largely seen as an enhancement of the Base Realignment and Closure program) and to formerly homeless veterans living in permanent housing. The bill has been reported favorably out of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and placed on the Senate legislative calendar.

Help Our Homeless Veterans Act – (H.R. 2559)

Introduced in the House by Rep. Phil Hare (D-IL), the Help Our Homeless Veterans Act is both an intervention and prevention initiative. The act directs the Department of Veterans Affairs 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. The bill has 11 cosponsors and has been referred to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.


Congressional Update

10/23/2009

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.


Congressional Update

1/24/2010

NCHV Legislative Priorities - Closing Out the First Session

As the first session of the 111th Congress comes to a close, several homeless veteran assistance bills are still moving forward. NCHV has testified in the Senate as recently as Nov. 10 and has continued to work with Congressional staffs throughout December in order to improve existing House bills.

With the second session less than a month away and no further hearings currently scheduled, this is an excellent time to consider bills with complementary provisions.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI)’s Zero Tolerance Act (S. 1547), in particular, shares many of the same provisions as four major House bills, which, if combined, could serve as a companion to the Senate bill. His bill now has 17 cosponsors, up from 12 just two months ago.

It is critical that, as our Congressional representatives return from winter recess, they are reminded of these initiatives. NCHV asks that all member organizations write to their senators urging them to cosponsor the Homes for Heroes Act of 2009 (S. 1160). You can quickly learn how to prepare your letter here, or call the NCHV Central Office at 202-546-1969 for advice and assistance.

Recap of Seven Major Bills

There are three major Senate bills pertaining to homeless veterans, each of which has been propelled, in part, by NCHV’s testimony:

S. 1160 - Homes for Heroes Act of 2009
Introduced by: Charles Schumer (D-NY)

  • Expands the supply of supportive housing for very low-income veteran families (families with incomes not exceeding 50 percent of the area median income).
  • Makes housing rental vouchers available to all homeless veterans, regardless of medical condition, and includes veterans in public housing planning.

S. 1237 - Homeless Women Veterans and Homeless Veterans with Children Act of 2009
Introduced by: Patty Murray (D-WA)

  • Expands the reach of Departments of Veterans Affairs and Labor programs by including women and single homeless veterans with minor dependents as a new category.
  • Creates a program, authorized at $10 million, to provide employment assistance to women veterans and single veterans with dependent children.

S. 1547 - Zero Tolerance for Veterans Homelessness Act of 2009
Introduced by: Jack Reed (D-RI)

  • Builds out HUD-VASH to a total of 60,000 housing vouchers for veterans with serious mental and emotional illnesses by the year 2013.
  • Authorizes up to $50 million annually to provide supportive services for low-income veterans.
  • Increases the annual GPD authorization to $200 million.

There are four major House bills that are steadily accruing cosponsors and may be bundled into one homeless veteran assistance bill in the second session:

H.R. 2504 - "…to provide for an increase in the annual amount authorized… to carry out comprehensive service programs for homeless veterans”
Introduced by: Harry Teague (D-NM)

  • Increases GPD authorization to $200 million

H.R. 2559 - Help Our Homeless Veterans Act
Introduced by: Phil Hare (D-IL)

  • Directs the VA Secretary to carry out a national media campaign directing homeless veterans and veterans at risk of becoming homeless to the help they need.

H.R. 2735 - "… to make certain improvements to the comprehensive service programs for homeless veterans”
Introduced by: Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX)

  • Changes the rate of payment from a per diem cost of care to an annual cost of providing services.
  • Allows providers to use per diem funds to match other funding sources.

H.R. 3906 – “… to authorize appropriations for the VA program to provide financial assistance for supportive services for very low-income veteran families in permanent housing”
Introduced by: Harry Teague (D-NM)

  • Increases the authorization for VA to provide financial assistance for supportive services to prevent homelessness from $50 million to $100 million by FY 2014 and thereafter.

Congressional Update

3/8/2010

NCHV Legislative Priorities - Second Session Starts Strongly

The second session of the 111th Congress is officially underway, and despite being snowed out for almost a week by back-to-back blizzards, the Senate has made major progress on homeless veterans legislation. On Jan. 28, the committee print of Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)’s Homeless Veterans and Other Health Care Authorities Act of 2010 – S. 1237 – was ordered to be reported favorably by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

The original, express intent of S. 1237 was to:

  • Create a program, authorized at $10 million, to provide employment assistance to women veterans and veterans with dependent children.
  • Expand the Grant and Per Diem Program (GPD) by including male homeless veterans with minor dependents as a new category.

This language remains unchanged in the committee print. Several new elements, however, have been added to the bill, most notably provisions from Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI)’s Zero Tolerance for Veterans Homelessness Act of 2009, S. 1547.

The new bill, which has been expanded to include sections on toxic substances exposure and other health care matters, now contains a section called “Homeless Veterans Matters” that addresses the following:

  • Allows the Secretary of Veterans Affairs one year to complete a study of per diem payments and develop an improved method to reimburse GPD grant recipients.
  • Increases GPD authorization to $200 million.
  • Instructs the Secretary to establish a program to prevent veteran homelessness.
  • Develops the Homeless Veterans Management Information System.
  • Builds out the Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program to 60,000 vouchers by fiscal year (FY) 2013.
  • Creates a Special Assistant for Veterans Affairs in HUD’s Office of the Secretary.

A unanimously approved amendment from Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) would ensure that at least five percent of grant funds – for the GPD and women veterans employment assistance (to be created via the bill’s passage) programs – are awarded to eligible rural entities.

In early February, NCHV Central Office staff met with a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee staffer and was informed that a report on S. 1237 is currently being prepared, and the bill should be forwarded to the full Senate by spring.

House Bills Recap

Four major House bills, which have yet to be acted upon during the second session, reflect some of the critical provisions outlined in S. 1237. Here is a quick recap of those bills:

  • H.R. 2504, introduced by Harry Teague (D-NM), would increase GPD authorization to $200 million.
  • H.R. 2559, the Help Our Homeless Veterans Act, introduced by Phil Hare (D-IL), would direct the VA Secretary to carry out a national media campaign directed toward homeless veterans and those at risk of becoming homeless.
  • H.R. 2735, introduced by Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX), would change the GPD rate of payment from a per diem to an annual cost of providing services.
  • H.R. 3906, also introduced by Rep. Teague, would increase the authorization for supportive services to prevent homelessness to $100 million by FY 2014 and thereafter.

President’s FY 2011 Budget

On a final note, President Barack Obama submitted his FY 2011 budget to Congress on Feb. 1. The budget includes a proposed $125 billion for the VA, $4.2 billion of which will reduce and help prevent homelessness among veterans. Of that $4.2 billion figure, $3.4 billion would go toward core medical services; the remaining $799 million would go toward specific homeless programs and expanded medical care, including $294 million for expanded homeless initiatives.

The budget proposal also designates $41.3 million for DOL’s Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program (HVRP), a $5 million increase over FY 2010.

These FY 2011 figures mark a dramatic increase in funding for VA homeless programs. If the President’s Budget is approved by Congress, VA programs for homeless veterans will have doubled over the last two years.

Regularly check our site (www.nchv.org) for updates as Congress hashes out the FY 2011 budget this year.


Congressional Update

3/25/2010

H.R. 4810 Passes House, SVAC Holds Hearing on Ending Veteran Homelessness

Within a period of 48 hours, both chambers of Congress took important steps forward in the fight to end homelessness among veterans. On Monday, March 22, Reps. Bob Filner (D-CA) and Cliff Stearns (R-FL) lauded the bipartisan H.R. 4810, the End Veterans Homelessness Act of 2010, from the House floor and urged their colleagues to vote in its favor. The bill was passed unanimously by a vote of 413-0.

Only 12 days prior to its passage, H.R. 4810 was marked up by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. The bill is now on its way to the Senate, which has been busily addressing veteran homelessness as well.

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (SVAC), presided over the hearing “VA’s Plan for Ending Homelessness among Veterans” on Wednesday, March 24. Leaders from three federal government agencies, representatives from NCHV and its member organizations, and a formerly homeless veteran were among the panelists:

Panel I

  • Pete Dougherty, Director of Homeless Programs, Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Ray Jefferson, Assistant Secretary for Veterans’ Employment and Training, Department of Labor
  • Mark Johnston, Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development, Department of Housing and Urban Development

Panel II

  • Arnold Shipman, U.S. Air Force veteran
  • Sandra Miller, Program Director, Homeless Residential Services, Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service & Education Center
  • Sam Tsemberis, Ph.D., Founder and CEO, Pathways to Housing
  • Dennis Parnell, President and CEO, The Healing Place of Wake County
  • Patrick Ryan, Vice Chair, Board of Directors, NCHV

Strangely, an objection on the Senate floor that morning disallowed committees to meet more than two hours after the Senate convened, requiring Chairman Akaka to abruptly end the hearing at 11 a.m.

Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC) held an informal roundtable discussion in the committee room immediately after this adjournment. Nearly all of the panelists, including Dougherty and Assistant Secretary Jefferson, participated in the talk, which was driven by NCHV’s recommendations to fulfill the VA's Five-Year Plan.


Congressional Update

Senate Appropriations Subcommittees Assess HUD-VASH, Veteran Homelessness

Posted: 5/21/2010

On Thursday, May 20, 2010, a joint hearing of two Senate Appropriations Committee subcommittees – the Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, and the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies – was held to examine the status of ending veteran homelessness, with a focus on the state of permanent supportive housing vouchers for homeless veterans. Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA), Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO), Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) conducted multiple rounds of questioning and inquired into the effectiveness of the interdepartmental voucher program called HUD-VASH.

The hearing, titled “Housing America’s Heroes: An Examination of the Progress in Ending Veterans’ Homelessness,” featured two Cabinet-level secretaries – U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan, who is also the current chair of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) – and Executive Director of the USICH Barbara Poppe. Both Shinseki and Poppe will be keynote speakers at the 2010 NCHV Annual Conference in mid-June.

From the start, Secretary Shinseki had high praise for community-based service providers, whom he called “the real creative geniuses here in saving the homeless.” Community partnerships are the focus of the sixth strategic pillar of VA’s Five-Year Plan to End Veteran Homelessness. “Our success in this venture is not possible without them,” Shinseki said.

The dynamic of the two secretaries was an important factor in determining the state of HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers – which are permanent housing vouchers coupled with VA supportive services, and are primarily targeted to chronically homeless veterans.

30,000 vouchers have been appropriated and will help “reduce the number of homeless veterans to 59,000 by June of 2012,” Secretary Shaun Donovan said.

“Indeed, I’m proud to say that in the first quarter of the calendar year, we increased the rate of issuance [of vouchers] by 44 percent,” he elaborated. “In all, more than 19,000 HUD-VASH vouchers are in veterans’ hands as we speak.”
Secretary Shinseki clarified the voucher situation in his statement.

“As of 30 April, roughly 19,000 of the 20,000 HUD-VASH vouchers that were assigned in previous budgets have been assigned to veterans,” he said. “And of these, 13,000 veterans are already in housing – no longer homeless. The remaining 7,000 are in search for housing and expect to be housed before the end of the year.”
In order to fulfill VA’s Five-Year Plan to End Veteran Homelessness, however, Secretaries Donovan and Shinseki believe that about twice as many vouchers will be necessary.

“To be clear – and we spend a lot of work and time with Secretary Shinseki and his team – our estimate is that through those five years we would need in the range of an additional 30,000 VASH vouchers,” Donovan explained. “So a total of 60,000, we believe, would be enough to get to the goal of ending veterans’ homelessness because there are a whole set of other resources that are available.”

The senators on the joint subcommittee were curious as to why, despite the program’s importance and increasing success, the President’s FY 2011 Budget proposal contained no new funding request for HUD-VASH vouchers.

“I am absolutely puzzled why there was no request,” Sen. Kit Bond said.

“We felt at the time the budget was put together, that given the challenges we were having in issuing the vouchers, leasing them up, we were concerned that in 2011 – not a long-term stoppage but for that one year – that we were concerned about the capacity to actually utilize those vouchers,” Secretary Donovan said. “I think we are more confident today then we were then that vouchers in ’11 could be leased-up and utilized more quickly.”

When Donovan restated his position, stating that “this administration believes that HUD-VASH has been a critical tool and, that as we continue to make improvements, believe that it can be a critical tool going forward,” Sen. Patty Murray posed a pointed question to him.

“So you can use additional funding in 2011?” she asked.

“He’s not going to say so, but we’re going to give it to him anyway,” Sen. Bond said before Secretary Donovan was able to respond.

Continue to regularly visit nchv.org for more information on the Five-Year Plan to End Veteran Homelessness and for updates on the legislative and budgetary process as it affects homeless veteran service providers.


Congressional Update

6/10/2010

Two Major Veteran Homelessness Bills Await Senate Action
H.R. 4810 and S. 1237

There are two major veteran homelessness bills currently awaiting action in the Senate: H.R. 4810, the End Veteran Homelessness Act of 2010, which was passed unanimously by the House on March 22 (by a vote of 413-0) and referred to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC) on March 23; and S. 1237, the Homeless Veterans and Other Veterans Health Care Authorities Act of 2010, which was reported out of the SVAC and placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar on April 29.

While some overlap exists between these two bills – e.g. both bills would raise the GPD appropriation to $200 million in FY 2010 – for the most part they are completely distinct. The provisions in S. 1237 that address women veterans and housing, for instance, look nothing like the related provisions in H.R. 4810.

A side-by-side comparison can be found here (PDF).
________________________________________

A New Change in Law
S. 1963, the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010, became Public Law 111-163 on May 5. It affects the parameters of the VA Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program (GPD) by allowing the Secretary to fund “nonconforming entities” – that is, organizations that carry out the GPD’s purposes but cannot meet all of its criteria.

Specifically, per diem funds may be made available to nonprofit organizations that would not normally qualify for assistance, either because (1) fewer than 75 percent of their homeless clients are veterans, (2) they do not provide all of the requisite transitional and supportive services, or (3) both. Whether or not these organizations are funded is up to the VA Secretary’s discretion.
________________________________________

Additional Veteran Homelessness Bills Filed

Several other bills in the current Congress can help forward VA’s Five-Year Plan to End Veteran Homelessness. Two of these bills – H.R. 403, the Homes for Heroes Act of 2009, and H.R. 1171, the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 – have already passed the House and now await action in the Senate.

With the second session of the 111th Congress nearly halfway over, seven additional veteran homelessness bills, including two pairs of companion bills (income tax and Homes for Heroes bills), require action. Here is an overview of those bills:

HOUSE BILLS (4)

H.R. 147 – "… to allow taxpayers to designate a portion of their income tax payment to provide  assistance to homeless veterans…”
Introduced by: Steve Israel (D-NY)
Cosponsors: 90
Status: Hearings held by House Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity (March 4, 2009)

  • Amends the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow taxpayers to designate a portion of their income tax payment to provide assistance to homeless veterans.

H.R. 295 – More Training for Veterans Act of 2009
Introduced by: Steve Buyer (R-IN)
Cosponsors: 11
Status: Referred to House Committee on Education and Labor, Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning, and Competitiveness (March 16, 2009)

  • Amends the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 to authorize appropriations of $20 million for each fiscal year for veterans' workforce investment programs.

H.R. 403 – Homes for Heroes Act of 2009
Introduced by: Al Green (D-TX)
Cosponsors: 41
Action: PASSED BY HOUSE (June 16, 2009)
Status: Referred to Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs (June 17, 2009)

  • Establishes a Special Assistant for Veterans Affairs within HUD.
  • Authorizes $200 million for FY 2009 “and such sums as may be necessary for each fiscal year thereafter” (1) to expand the supply of permanent housing for very low-income veteran families and (2) to provide supportive services through such housing to support the needs of such veteran families.
  • Provides the amount necessary each year for at least 20,000 housing choice vouchers for homeless veterans.
  • Includes veterans in public housing plans.
  • Excludes veterans benefits from assisted housing rent considerations.

H.R. 1171 – Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program Reauthorization Act of 2009
Introduced by: John Boozman (R-AR)
Cosponsors: 4
Action: PASSED BY HOUSE (March 30, 2009)
Status: Referred to Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (March 31, 2009)

  • Reauthorizes the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program through FY 2014. The bill was amended to authorize an additional $10 million for FY 2010 through FY 2014 to provide dedicated services for homeless women veterans and homeless veterans with children. Grants would be made available to provide job training, counseling, placement services, and child care services to expedite the reintegration of veterans into the labor force.

SENATE BILLS (3)

S. 1160 – Homes for Heroes Act of 2009
Introduced by: Charles Schumer (D-NY)
Cosponsors: 14
Status: Referred to Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs (June 1, 2009)

This bill is virtually identical to H.R. 403, whose provisions are listed above.

S. 1366 – "… to allow taxpayers to designate a portion of their income tax payment to provide assistance to homeless veterans…”
Introduced by: Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Cosponsors: 4
Status: Referred to Senate Committee on Finance (June 25, 2009)

This bill is virtually identical to H.R. 147, whose provisions are listed above.

S. 3377 – "... to improve the multifamily transitional housing loan program of the Department of Veterans Affairs..."
Introduced by:  Richard Burr (R-NC)
Cosponsors: 3
Status: Hearings held by Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (May 19, 2010)

  • Improves the VA multifamily transitional housing loan program by requiring the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to issue loans for the construction of, rehabilitation of, or acquisition of land for multifamily transitional housing projects instead of guaranteeing loans for such purposes.
  • Establishes the VA Multifamily Transitional Housing Loan Program Revolving Fund to fund such loans.

Congressional Update

7/22/2010

Senate, House Appropriations Committees Approve Record Homeless Veterans Funding
$151 million for HUD-VASH, $220.6 million for GPD in Senate bill

UPDATE: On July 28, the House of Representatives passed the VA appropriations bill, which contains $4.2 billion for homeless veterans, including $151 for HUD-VASH, $218 for GPD and $51 million for supportive services for low-income veterans and families.

The Senate Committee on Appropriations and the House Committee on Appropriations have approved record funding for homeless veterans in their fiscal year (FY) 2011 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bills. Most notably, these bills include $151 million for the Department of Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program – the funding equivalent of about 20,000 vouchers – and $220.6 and $218 million, respectively, for the VA Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem (GPD) program and program liaisons, which received $150 million in funding in FY 2010.

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) has been advocating for a $200 million GPD appropriation since 2005.

In both appropriations bills, the President’s historic budget request for homeless veterans programs is met or exceeded, with about $800 million going toward direct programs to assist homeless veterans. Highlights from the Senate appropriations bill include: $10 million to provide family-friendly housing for homeless veterans on VA medical campuses, and $12.6 million for the Veteran Justice Outreach program. In the House appropriations bill, highlights include: $51 million for supportive services for low-income veterans and families.

For a more detailed overview of the Senate appropriations bill, click here.

For a more detailed overview of the House appropriations bill, click here.


Congressional Update

8/27/2010

VA, HUD Appropriations Bills Pass Full House of Representatives
Include record homeless veterans funding

The fiscal year (FY) 2011 appropriations season is off to a slow start: The House of Representatives has only passed two of 12 spending bills before its summer recess, but both of these bills include important homeless veterans funding. The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, H.R. 5822 – which controls funding levels for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – and the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, H.R. 5850 – which controls funding levels for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) – passed the full House on July 28 and July 29, respectively.

Although the upcoming fiscal year (FY 2011) begins on Oct. 1, 2010, Congress is not expected to complete the appropriations process until some months after this date. In comparison, last year most spending measures were signed into law after the start of the fiscal year, but the House had passed all of its appropriations bills by the August recess.

The House-passed VA appropriations bill, which has been received in the Senate, contains record homeless veterans funding that includes:

  • $218 million for the VA Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem (GPD) program and program liaisons, which received $150 million in FY 2010.
  • $151 million for the HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program.
  • $51 million for supportive services for low-income veterans and families.

Overall, the VA appropriations bill provides approximately $4.2 billion for homeless veterans, about $800 million of which would go directly toward programs. Both of these figures are unprecedented for federal homeless veteran assistance.

The Senate Committee on Appropriations has also passed its own VA appropriations bill, which strongly resembles the House’s version. This bill includes an identical $151 for the HUD-VASH program, while its funding level for the GPD program is nearly $3 million higher at $220.6 million. Other notable numbers in the Senate bill include:

  • $10 million to provide family-friendly housing for homeless veterans on VA medical campuses.
  • $12.6 million for the Veteran Justice Outreach program.

The House-passed HUD appropriations bill includes $75 million for the HUD-VASH program. This money will support 10,000 new housing vouchers for homeless veterans.
________________________________________

S. 1237 Stalled By Sen. Tom Coburn
Cites need to pay for bill up front

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)’s Homeless Veterans and Other Veterans Health Care Authorities Act of 2010, S. 1237, has encountered its first significant roadblock. On June 29, Murray was denied unanimous consent to pass the bill when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) objected via proxy, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). McConnell cited a letter from his Oklahoman colleague, who did not want to add to the nation’s deficit; as written, S. 1237 would cost approximately $3.4 billion over the next five years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

As of late August, an agreeable pay-for amendment to S. 1237 – one that would offset the bill’s costs by drawing money from elsewhere in the federal budget – had not been reached. NCHV has been in contact with Sen. Murray’s office and has met with Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)’s office to discuss the way forward on this bill. An upcoming meeting with the office of Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, will help to solidify our strategy in ensuring this historic legislation’s passage.


Congressional Update

New Law Authorizes Program for Homeless Women Vets, Homeless Vets with Children
Posted: 10/19/2010

On Oct. 13, President Barack Obama signed H.R. 3219, the Veterans’ Benefits Act of 2010, into law (Public Law No: 111-275). After passage by the U.S. House of Representatives on July 27, 2009, the U.S. Senate took up the bill and passed it by unanimous consent with an amendment on Sept. 28, 2010. The amendment included two significant homeless veterans provisions: The first reauthorizes the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP) through fiscal year (FY) 2011; the second authorizes $1 million from FY 2011-2015 to provide dedicated services for homeless women veterans and homeless veterans with children.

Both the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs, led by Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and Richard Burr (R-NC) and Reps. Bob Filner (D-CA) and Steve Buyer (R-IN), came to a “compromise agreement” that included these homeless veterans components. The amended language largely follows that of H.R. 1171, the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program Reauthorization Act of 2009. The major difference between the two is the authorization lengths and levels.

New Law Compared to H.R. 1171

  • The new law reauthorizes HVRP through FY 2011. H.R. 1171, the legislation from which the amendment was derived, would have reauthorized the program through FY 2014.
  • The new law authorizes $1 million for FY 2011-2015 for the “homeless women veterans and homeless veterans with children reintegration grant program.” H.R. 1171 – as well as S. 1237, the Homeless Veterans and Other Veterans Health Care Authorities Act of 2010, which was denied multiple requests for passage by unanimous consent in the Senate – would have authorized ten times as much ($10 million per year) over the same length of time.

Congress should be commended for reauthorizing HVRP, as well as for its investment in homeless women veterans and homeless veterans with children – two underserved, growing subgroups of homeless veterans. NCHV still hopes to see the original measures of H.R. 1171 signed into law and will continue to advocate on their behalf.


Congressional Update

11/2/2010

Little Time, Uncertainty Remain for Congressional Action
Congress on break until Nov. 15

When Congress reconvenes for a lame duck session – the term for congressional business conducted between elections (Nov. 2) and the year’s end – on Nov. 15, there will be few weeks left to complete outstanding work. Considering its plans to adjourn for the week of Thanksgiving and then again by Christmas, prospects for significant action are dim. Since the current fiscal year (FY 2011) began on Oct. 1, Congress had to extend last year’s spending levels with a “continuing resolution,” or “CR,” through Dec. 3. Now, in order to preserve all federal funding, Congress must pass another CR in lieu of the FY 2011 appropriations bills. All remaining legislation must also be addressed.

In this environment, there is very little likelihood of S. 1237 or H.R. 4810the two major homeless veterans bills – receiving floor time, at least not in their current forms. NCHV has worked with key congressional staffs to explore other vehicles for this legislation’s passage. There may be opportunities to amend a bill scheduled to receive floor time; a homeless veterans “rider” would contain the most critical components of the two bills, thereby providing a different vehicle by which they are signed into law.

This scenario is uncertain at best. As of late October, there is little to no sense of what Congress will be able to accomplish in the lame duck session. Political majorities will be disrupted, if not displaced. Whether or not the U.S. Senate has enough time to debate and vote upon its appropriations bills – which would still need to be reconciled with the U.S. House of Representatives’ versions – is also unclear. Should one of these bills receive a floor vote, there is still no guarantee that a homeless veterans rider will receive consideration due to strict rules on allowable amendments to appropriations bills.

NCHV will continue to advocate for and facilitate the passage of S. 1237 and H.R. 4810 until final adjournment.


Congressional Update

12/28/2010

Historic Achievements and High-Water Marks
111th Congress recap

Our recap of the 111th Congress (January 2009 - December 2010) gives due recognition to historic achievements, “high-water marks,” and missed opportunities alike. Overall, there was much to be proud of in this Congress. A couple of monumental bills, however, failed to be signed into law.

Up until the end of this Congress, appropriations had helped advance this administration’s Five-Year Plan to End Homelessness among Veterans. A string of continuing resolutions, continuing the federal budget at fiscal year (FY) 2010 levels, have replaced what would have been (based off the proposed House and Senate bills) impressive FY 2011 appropriations for homeless veterans programs. The 112th Congress, whose inaugural session will be held on January 5th, will inherit the responsibility of passing a federal budget for FY 2011, now three months underway.

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) has not significantly altered its priorities for homeless veterans legislation in the 112th Congress – the best elements of S. 1237 and H.R. 4810 (111th) still remain vital.

Achievements

In this past Congress, homeless veterans programs received more funding than ever before in our history. The nation’s largest homeless veterans program, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Grant and Per Diem Program (GPD), was expanded to accept applications from deserving yet disadvantaged service providers.

Additionally, a long-term authorization was passed for a program to reintegrate homeless women veterans and homeless veterans with children.

These were some of the highlights among an array of accomplishments:

  • $3.2 billion in FY 2010 for health care and support services for homeless veterans, including:
    • $150 million for the GPD.
    • $26 million for a presidential initiative to combat homelessness.
    • $21 million to hire additional personnel for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program.
    • $20 million for supportive services for low-income veterans and families.
  • $50 million to renovate vacant buildings on VA campuses to be used as supportive housing for homeless veterans.
  • Reauthorization of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)’s Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP) through FY 2011. The program was funded at an all-time high of $36 million in 2010.
  • $75 million for approximately 10,000 VASH vouchers in both FY 2009 and 2010.

These achievements are commendable and have set a great precedent for the 112th Congress which will have to keep up with this pace in order to end homelessness among veterans in the next four years. But there is much to be done if this goal is to be reached.

Missed opportunities

In the 111th Congress, S. 1237, the Homeless Veterans and Other Veterans Health Care Authorities Act of 2010, and H.R. 4810, the End Veteran Homelessness Act of 2010 – the two major homeless veterans bills – could not work their way out of the Senate.

H.R. 4810, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 413-0, was neither acted upon by nor released from the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee because of the status of S. 1237, opposed by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) without an offset to the cost of the bill: $3.4 billion over 2010-2015.
With no Senate floor time being allotted to this bill, there was no formal opportunity for any senator to offer an amendment to offset these costs.

State of appropriations

An unsuccessful Senate omnibus appropriations bill, released in December 2010, nonetheless contained impressive numbers for homeless veterans programs, including:

  • $217 million for the GPD.
  • $151 million for HUD-VASH.
  • $50.56 million for supportive services for low-income veterans and families in FY 2011 and FY 2012.
  • $41.3 million for HVRP.
  • Additional money to renovate VA buildings to provide housing for homeless veterans.

A fourth continuing resolution was signed into law on Dec. 22 to fund the federal government at mostly FY 2010 levels through March 4, 2011. Both (failed) House and Senate FY 2011 appropriations bills would have significantly increased funding for homeless veterans programs. It will now be up to the 112th Congress to pass those appropriations.

In closing…

NCHV is developing its policy platform for the 112th Congress but has not significantly altered its priorities for homeless veterans legislation. The best elements of S. 1237 and H.R. 4810 would keep our nation on track to end veterans homelessness within five years.


Congressional Update

Press Conference on FY 2011 HUD-VASH Funding
U.S. Senate

John Driscoll, NCHV President and CEO

I am honored to stand with this distinguished company in service to our nation’s most vulnerable heroes – her homeless veterans.

In releasing his first budget request for the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2008, President Obama spoke these words:

“And we provide new help for homeless veterans … and until we reach a day when not a single veteran sleeps on our nation’s streets, our work remains unfinished.”

I still tremble at the historic magnitude of that declaration … and am humbled by the progress this nation has made in the campaign to end veteran homelessness since that moment.

Many felt the announcement was too ambitious, that the goal was far beyond reach.

But that’s because they were not aware of the work that was already being done. The Departments of Veterans Affairs, Labor and HUD, in partnership with community organizations represented by NCHV, had reduced the number of homeless veterans on the streets by 40 percent over the previous four years; the number of service providers helping homeless veterans had tripled in the previous five years.

What is often missed in the budget discussions today is that Congress deserves much of the credit for that success – both the Senate and the House of Representatives … both Republicans and Democrats.

Significant, historic increases in aid for homeless veterans were championed by the administration of President George Bush. President Obama understood that the gains of the recent past were prologue to what is possible in the immediate future.

At the same time Congress increased funding for homeless veteran programs – despite the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and war on two fronts – they demanded evidence of the effectiveness and efficiency of those programs, and demanded a high order of accountability, much like today.

The VA, Labor, HUD and NCHV organizations have responded by decreasing veteran homelessness by more than 60% since 2004 – from hundreds of thousands on the streets each night, to about 76,000 today. The number of chronically homeless veterans – those with serious mental illness and other disabilities – has been cut in half in just three years.

This is why the HUD VA-Supportive Housing Program – or HUD-VASH – is so important. This program is designed to provide access to housing for veterans who need long-term assistance, and the critical services they will need to remain housed.

HUD-VASH is a vital component of the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness – which calls for an end to veteran homelessness by 2015. Creation of that plan was mandated by Congress in the Hearth Act last year – and it may well be one of the most historically significant domestic policy instruments of our generation.

HUD Secretary Sean Donovan has testified before the Senate that 60,000 HUD-VASH vouchers would virtually end chronic homelessness among veterans.

Research proves that HUD-VASH addresses the prime concern of the new Congress – the cost to taxpayers of placing chronically homeless veterans in supportive housing is roughly half of the cost of emergency medical and other public services for veterans who remain homeless and on the streets.

Right now there are tens of thousands of men and women who served in our nation’s military who need this long-term assistance. HUD-VASH is not a program being expanded in anticipation of future needs.

It is a program that is saving lives and restoring hope for veterans with serious mental illness and other disabilities, each and every day. Nearly 1,000 chronically homeless veterans are now being placed in housing each month.

By this summer, without the $75 million previously authorized for Fiscal Year 2011, nearly 10,000 of these veterans and their families who could have been helped will remain homeless.

NCHV believes that is not an acceptable outcome for a Congress that has given so much – in leadership and resources – in the campaign to end veteran homelessness.

Because of Congressional leadership – both in the Senate and the House of Representatives – this nation has never been closer to that goal. On behalf of the veterans we all serve, we want to thank you for your service.


Congressional Update

3/1/2011

House Cuts 10,000 New Housing Vouchers for Homeless Veterans in FY 2011

On Feb. 19, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1, the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011, which would eliminate $75 million for approximately 10,000 new permanent supportive housing vouchers for chronically homeless veterans in fiscal year (FY) 2011.

These vouchers represent a collaboration between the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) to help veterans with serious mental illness and other disabilities who need long-term assistance to obtain and maintain housing. Under the program, VA provides case management and health services for veterans who receive HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan has testified before the U.S. Senate that 60,000 HUD-VASH vouchers are needed to end chronic homelessness among veterans. The agency has received and awarded nearly 30,000 vouchers since 2008, approximately 10,000 per year.

During a Feb. 17 hearing in the House of Representatives Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) said he was informed that of the 30,000 vouchers that have been authorized, 11,000 remain unused.

According to officials at HUD and VA, however, 29,000 of the VASH vouchers have been awarded to homeless veterans – these veterans are now either permanently housed or actively searching for housing with vouchers in hand. About 7,000 veterans who have received vouchers are currently in the final phase of the housing selection process.

Vince Kane, Director of VA's National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, said it generally takes up to four months for a veteran to be placed in housing after referral for case management under the program. Kane and Mark Johnston, HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs, confirmed the high utilization rate of HUD-VASH vouchers.

The HUD-VASH program is a vital component of the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, which calls for ending veteran homelessness by 2015.

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) maintains that an additional 10,000 vouchers are needed in FY 2011. This would bring the VASH program to the 40,000 voucher level, representing two-thirds of the number most veteran service providers and federal officials agree are needed to end chronic veteran homelessness.


Congressional Update

Congressional Letter to Restore New HUD-VASH Vouchers in FY 2011
Submitted to House and Senate leadership

March 28, 2011

The Honorable John A. Boehner
1011 Longworth House Office Building
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Speaker Boehner:

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) is writing to express its support for the inclusion of $75 million for new permanent supportive housing vouchers for chronically homeless veterans in the full-year FY 2011 appropriations bill. As currently written, H.R. 1 would eliminate the next round of HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers, leaving approximately 10,000 homeless veterans, who need intensive supports, without housing.

These vouchers represent a collaboration between HUD and VA to help veterans with serious mental illness and other disabilities obtain and maintain housing. Under the program, VA provides case management and health services for veterans who receive HUD-VASH vouchers.
HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan has testified before the U.S. Senate that 60,000 HUD-VASH vouchers are needed to end chronic homelessness among veterans. An additional 10,000 vouchers would bring us to the 40,000 voucher level, representing two-thirds of the number needed to reach this goal.
Recently, members of Congress have raised concern about the utilization of the 30,000 vouchers allocated since 2008, at a rate of approximately 10,000 per year. HUD and VA officials have verified that 29,000 – more than 95% – of these vouchers have been awarded to homeless veterans. The great majority of these veterans are now permanently housed, with fewer than 7,000 actively searching for housing with vouchers in hand.

Vince Kane, Director of VA’s National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, said it generally takes up to four months for a veteran to be placed in housing after referral for case management under the program. Kane and Mark Johnston, HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs, confirmed the high utilization rate of HUD-VASH vouchers. At the current rate, nearly 1,000 chronically homeless veterans are being housed each month.

NCHV understands this nation’s call to cut government spending; the HUD-VASH Program is consistent with that goal. Research indicates the cost of providing supportive housing to chronically homeless individuals and families is roughly half the cost incurred by emergency medical facilities, shelters, public assistance organizations and law enforcement agencies to assist people without housing.

The HUD-VASH Program is a vital component of the congressionally mandated Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, which calls for an end to veteran homelessness by 2015. The necessary build-out of the program to 60,000 vouchers, at 10,000 per year, would ensure an end to chronic veteran homelessness by that deadline. The lease-up rate of nearly 1,000 vouchers per month justifies the FY 2011 allocation.

The progress of VA, DOL, HUD and other federal agencies in reducing homelessness among veterans during the last decade has been made possible by the commendable bipartisan leadership of Congress. HUD-VASH has reduced the number of chronically homeless veterans by about 50% in just the last three years.

By this summer, without an additional $75 million for HUD-VASH in FY 2011, more than 10,000 of these veterans and their families who could have been helped will remain homeless. NCHV believes that is not an acceptable outcome for a Congress that has given so much – in leadership and resources – in the campaign to end veteran homelessness.

We strongly urge members of the House of Representatives and Senate to stand by this nation’s homeless heroes in their greatest hour of need, and restore the $75 million for HUD-VASH in the final FY 2011 appropriations bill.

Sincerely,

John Driscoll
President and CEO
National Coalition for Homeless Veterans
202-546-1969

Barbara Burnham
Vice President of Federal Policy
Local Initiatives Support Corporation

Debbie Burkart
Vice President of Supportive Housing Acquisitions
National Equity Fund


Congressional Update

Final FY 2011 Appropriations Bill Restores New HUD-VASH Vouchers

Posted: 4/12/2011

UPDATE: On Friday, April 15, President Obama signed the FY 2011 spending bill into law.

WASHINGTON, April 12, 2011 – Last Friday, Congress narrowly avoided a government shutdown by reaching a compromise on fiscal year (FY) 2011 appropriations. Although the final continuing resolution (CR) for FY 2011, H.R. 1473  – released early this morning – includes record spending cuts, it would restore $50 million for new permanent supportive housing vouchers for chronically homeless veterans.

These vouchers represent a collaboration between the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) to help veterans with serious mental illness and other disabilities obtain and maintain housing. Under the program, VA provides case management and health services for veterans who receive HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers.

On Feb. 19, the House of Representatives passed an appropriations bill, H.R. 1, that would have eliminated $75 million for approximately 10,000 new HUD-VASH vouchers. To date, 30,000 vouchers have been allocated. An additional $50 million would raise the number of vouchers to about 60 percent of the total number most federal officials and service providers agree are needed to end chronic veteran homelessness.

“We want to commend the leadership of both the House and Senate for this compromise,” said John Driscoll, President and CEO of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV). “Strong bipartisan support in Congress for veteran programs over the last 10 years has brought us to within reach of ending veteran homelessness. This keeps that legacy alive and, more importantly, moving forward. This act will provide housing for 7,000 of our most vulnerable former guardians and their families.”

During the last two months, NCHV has worked to restore the HUD-VASH vouchers, meeting with House and Senate committees and speaking directly with congressional leadership.

The House and Senate are expected to vote on the final continuing resolution for FY 2011 this week. The provision for new HUD-VASH vouchers will take effect once the bill has passed both houses and been signed by the president.

Other notable provisions in the bill include $3.5 billion for Community Development Block grants – $1.5 billion above the initial House spending bill, H.R. 1 – and $16.7 billion for Tenant-Based Section 8 Housing, the same level as H.R. 1.


Congressional Update

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.

Project-basing

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.

HEALTH

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.

Benefits claims

  • 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.

PREVENTION

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.

Interagency collaboration

  • 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.

Congressional Update

President Signs Bill Reauthorizing Major Homeless Veteran Programs

Toward the end of September, both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate passed a bill to reauthorize a number of major homeless veteran programs for fiscal year (FY) 2012. Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH)’s H.R. 2646, the “Veterans Health Care Facilities Capital Improvement Act of 2011,” was passed by the House on Sept. 20 by a vote of 412-3, and was unanimously passed by the Senate three days later. On Oct. 5, this bill was signed by the president and officially became Public Law 112-37.

These reauthorizations were extremely urgent, as fiscal year (FY) 2011 ended on Sept. 30. The new law will enable continued funding in FY 2012 for homeless veteran programs such as the following:

Additionally, the following VA services have been reauthorized: treatment and rehabilitation for seriously mentally ill and homeless veterans, housing assistance for homeless veterans, and the Advisory Committee on Homeless Veterans.

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) commends Congress for passing this bill on an overwhelming bipartisan basis. Throughout the 112th Congress, NCHV has stressed the importance of these homeless veteran programs to the Senate and House Committees on Veterans’ Affairs, which have responded with impressive leadership and results.

For more information on homeless veteran legislation, visit www.nchv.org.


Congressional Update

Recommendations for Homeless Veteran Programs: President's FY 2013 Budget

In November 2009, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki announced his department’s plan to end homelessness among veterans within five years, i.e. by 2015. The plan’s flexibility is a result of VA’s recognition that there is no top-down solution to ending veteran homelessness— crucial intervention and rehabilitation must occur on the local level. This is why the department has increased its investment in grant programs for community partners and tasked every VA medical center with creating its own “Five-Year Plan,” among other initiatives.

Number of homeless veterans

VA and HUD’s most recent veteran-specific supplemental report to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) showed a marginal increase in the number of homeless veterans on a given night: The official count is now 76,329 (January 2010 point-in-time count), up from 75,609 (January 2009 PIT). This higher number is attributable, in part, to enhanced collaboration between HUD and VA, including greater participation by VA homeless veteran programs in PIT counts.

“I’ve never been able to solve a problem I couldn’t see,” Secretary Shinseki told attendees at the 2011 NCHV Annual Conference. By pinning down the full scale of veteran homelessness, the federal government has put itself in position to properly resource its efforts to end it.

Program funding

If enacted, VA’s proposed FY 2012 budget would make a historic investment in homeless veterans programs, including $224 million for the Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem (GPD) Program, roughly $100 million for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program, and an additional $50 million for HUD-VA Supportive Housing (VASH) case management.

HUD’s proposed FY 2012 budget, meanwhile, includes $75 million for 11,000 new VASH vouchers, targeted to chronically homeless veterans. This would bring the total number of vouchers to about 48,500. Secretaries Donovan and Shinseki have both verified that 60,000 vouchers are needed to end chronic veteran homelessness.
As of Nov. 4, 2011, Congress has yet to send an FY 2012 appropriations bill to the president’s desk. Committees of jurisdiction in both the House of Representatives and Senate, however, have approved these funding levels in the respective funding bills for VA and HUD.

The following FY 2013 budget recommendations should serve as a baseline for homeless veteran assistance for the remainder of the Five-Year Plan. We have already seen an uptick in the number of younger veterans – men and women, including those with dependent children – requesting VA homeless assistance. With more than

2.2 million veterans having deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and with those wars winding down, we must ensure our nation’s support system is in place for those who experience severe economic and/or health crises following discharge.

Specifically, these are the funding levels for homeless veteran programs that should be enacted in FY 2013:

  • Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program (VA): $250 million. This transitional housing program is still the fastest way out of homelessness for the majority of the homeless veteran population.
  • Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program (VA): $300 million. This is the only veteran-specific program that can intervene for the hundreds of thousands of veterans at extreme risk of homelessness.
  • HUD-VA Supportive Housing Program (HUD/VA): $75 million for new vouchers. Another round of new vouchers would end homelessness for 11,000 of the hardest-to-serve veterans, who are unable to enter independent living without an appropriate level of case management.
  • Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (Department of Labor): $50 million. This is the only nationwide employment program for homeless veterans, including women and those with families.

Oversight

The Department of Veterans Affairs should reiterate the need to correctly target VASH vouchers to veterans experiencing chronic homelessness. Additionally, as new SSVF sites come online, VA must ensure the program’s objectives are being met and VASH voucher-holders are able to access the program’s support. SSVF funds could be the difference between secured housing and prolonged homelessness for many of these veterans.

NCHV applauds VA’s continued commitment to the Grant and Per Diem Program, which continues to be the foundation for community-based homeless veteran assistance, and is largely accountable for the more than 60% reduction in veteran homelessness since 2004.


Congressional Update

11,000 New Permanent Supportive Housing Vouchers for Veterans Signed into Law

On Nov. 18, 2011, President Barack Obama signed the Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, H.R. 2112, into law. The final compromise version of this “minibus” (or small omnibus) legislation met the President’s request of $75 million in new permanent supportive housing vouchers for chronically homeless veterans.

These HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers represent a collaboration between the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) to help veterans with serious mental illness and other disabilities obtain and maintain housing. Under the program, HUD issues housing vouchers and VA provides case management and health services for participating veterans.

The additional $75 million will bring the total number of HUD-VASH vouchers to about 49,000 – representing 80 percent of the administration’s initial target of 60,000 vouchers needed to end chronic veteran homelessness.

Throughout the year, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) has worked closely with House and Senate committees of jurisdiction to ensure passage of these new vouchers. We deeply commend Congress and the executive branch’s commitment to the HUD-VASH Program.

For more information on the recently passed minibus bill, click here.

Remaining FY 2012 appropriations bills

The FY 2012 funding bill for the Department of Veterans Affairs has not yet been signed into law. The President’s FY 2012 budget proposal for homeless veteran programs, however, is expected to be met. This would include the following funding levels:

  • $224 million for the Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem (GPD) Program
  • About $100 million for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program
  • An additional $50 million for HUD-VASH case management services

Looking ahead: Recommendations for FY 2013

To read about NCHV’s recommendations for the President’s FY 2013 Budget, which will be released in a few months, click here.


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