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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.


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