Yesterday, the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development held its hearing on the HUD budget. HUD Secretary Julián Castro shared major points from the President’s FY 2016 budget request before taking questions from committee members. A theme throughout opening statements and member questions was sequestration, specifically the need for an alternative solution and the negative impact of sequestration on the HUD budget. Committee members also raised thoughtful questions about specific HUD programs, highlighting the value of HUD investments and illustrating how HUD programs positively impact thousands of Americans and help move people out of poverty. Both Subcommittee Chair Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) made striking comments about sequestration in their opening remarks:
- Sen. Collins discussed how sequestration is ill-conceived and harmful, noting that it will force difficult choices in the HUD budget.
- Sen. Reed discussed how sequestration spending levels in FY 16 will not provide sufficient funding to maintain current programs or to make investments looking to the future. He observed that for example, the Section 202 program has been cut by 50 percent since 2010, when the need for housing for older adults is growing and will only increase.
- Senator Reed called for legislators to increase the spending caps for non-defense discretionary programs and find another way forward.
Much of the initial committee member discussion was around homelessness:
- Committee members raised questions about the HUD-VASH program for combining rental assistance with VA case management, the progress toward ending veteran homelessness, and the flexibility around discharge status in the proposed targeted vouchers in HUD’s budget.
- Senator Collins expressed specific interest in youth homelessness and mentioned a hearing planned for April on that topic.
The conversation also touched on specific HUD programs and local issues.
- Housing for people with disabilities. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) discussed how the Section 811 program is a small investment but with significant outcomes in terms of health care savings.
- Disaster resilience. Senator Murphy also highlighted the value of the Rebuild by Design program for Bridgeport, Connecticut. Secretary Castro discussed the National Disaster Resiliency Competition as extension of Rebuild by Design’s success; awards are expected later this year and will help local and state communities plan, prepare and build for resiliency.
- State and local housing challenges. Members also asked about specific housing challenges that play out in different ways at the local and state level, like the homelessness crisis in Hawaii.
- Housing challenges in tribal communities. Senator Steve Daines (R-Mont.) discussed the needs of tribal communities; while they are only one percent of the population, they are four percent of all homeless individuals. One positive recent step to address this need is that HUD VASH will now be available to tribal communities.