Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) questioned the Obama administration’s decision to not seek additional funding for a key Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) initiative that assists homeless veterans.
Under the 2016 fiscal budget request, no new funding is requested for the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) program.
“I don’t understand the basis for the administration’s optimism that all of a sudden we are going to be able to declare this problem (veteran homelessness) solved,” said Collins, a member of the Appropriations Committee and chair of its Subcommittee on Transportation, HUD, and Related Agencies. “We have made significant progress, but it is by no means solved. There are still plenty of homeless veterans who would benefit from the combination provided by the VASH vouchers of services from the VA and housing assistance from HUD.”
She raised her concerns during a subcommittee hearing today with HUD Secretary Julián Castro.
“We have put out almost 70,000 HUD VASH vouchers to over 400 public housing authorities over the last few years and have served 83,000 veterans,” Castro said. “This has been tremendously effective in reducing the number of homeless veterans. In fact, we’ve seen a 33% reduction in the last four years in veteran homeless.”
Castro noted that HUD is still working to reach President Obama’s goal of ending veteran homelessness by the end of this year. In addition to utilizing VASH vouchers, communities are adopting Housing First policies and deploying other strategies to drive down the number of homeless vets, he said.
Castro said he believes there is room for flexibility, noting that the fiscal 2016 budget seeks $177.5 million for special-purpose vouchers, which could be used to serve certain populations, including veterans and Native Americans.
“This would help us address, for instance, veterans who were other than honorably discharged,” said Castro, who became head of HUD in 2014 after serving as mayor of San Antonio.
HUD wants to make sure communities have tools to help to homeless veterans who may be otherwise ineligible for VASH or other programs.
“If we’re talking about those veterans who were drummed out of the service because of the inequality and injustice of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law, then I’m sympathetic,” Collins said. “If we’re talking about homeless veterans who received dishonorable discharges due to crimes they committed, I don’t understand why we would prioritize help for them with the new program rather than going through the regular VASH program.”
She also pointed out the proposed cuts to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. The budget proposes $2.8 billion for CDBG formula grants, down from $3 billion this year.
“As a former mayor, you must know how flexible that program is, and it really does produce economic development and jobs. I would think that would be the last program this administration would want to cut,” she added.
Connect with Donna Kimura, deputy editor of Affordable Housing Finance, on Twitter @DKimura_AHF.