Reckless Budget Targets Our Most Vulnerable Neighbors

There are few greater obligations that we share as a nation than to support our servicemen and women when they come home “to care for him who shall have borne the battle” as Lincoln said in his second Inaugural Address.

Yet, every night, there are an estimated 8,000 homeless veterans in New Jersey. Nationally, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 75,000 veterans are homeless every year, while 135,000 veterans spent at least one night last year in a homeless shelter. Every time I read those numbers, I shake my head in disbelief. Veterans make up almost one-fifth of the homeless population, even as they represent 8 percent of the population.

While no single program can solve the homelessness crisis among veterans, a joint program from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Housing and Urban Development has literally been a lifesaver to tens of thousands of veterans, including those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The VA-HUD supportive housing program provides rental vouchers to help veterans with mental illness and other disabilities secure housing.

Since 2008 nearly 30,000 vouchers have been awarded, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. This is the type of program in which we should be investing.

So how does the Republican budget address homeless veterans? It eliminates the voucher program. It doesn’t trim or reduce the program—the Republican budget that passed the House would completely eliminate rental vouchers for homeless veterans.

If our budget should reflect our national values, then the decision to gut a program that provides housing for homeless veterans is shameful and indefensible. We sent them into battle. We should— we must—take care of them when they come home.

As we recover from the worst economic collapse in three-quarters of a century, veterans are not alone in their need for affordable housing. Unfortunately, the spending plan that passed only with Republican votes would slash or eliminate our most vital affordable housing programs. They include:

• The Public Housing Capital and Operating fund, which helps local housing agencies make repairs to public housing, would be cut by $1.2 billion. With states already facing a backlog of rehabilitation needs, this would lead to the deferred maintenance and erosion of our public housing.

• The HOME Investment Partnership Program, which provides states and local communities with block grant funding for rental assistance and the acquisition and rehabilitation of affordable housing, would be cut by 10 percent.

• The HOPE VI program to modernize public housing would be eliminated and $198 million in unobligated funding from the previous fiscal year would be rescinded. The administration’s proposed successor program to HOPE VI, Choice Neighborhoods, would receive no funding.

• The Housing Counseling Assistance Program, which provides a variety of counseling services to about 300,000 households, would be eliminated.

There is no question that we should continue to look for ways to eliminate government waste and reduce the deficit. When the House debated the budget for the remainder of 2011, I proposed cutting two programs that would save nearly $3.4 billion in taxpayer dollars.

What we should not do is slash programs that have provided a safety net and supported our most vulnerable neighbors.

When the House passed its spending bill, it did not become law. The Senate must still pass its bill and then both versions must be reconciled. The President has said he will veto the House bill if it gets to his desk. If an agreement cannot be reached, there may be another government shutdown.

A Shelterforce ad seeking donations from readers. On the left there's a photo of a person wearing a red shirt that reads "Because the Rent Can't Wait."

A shutdown would be temporary. The impact on Americans in need of affordable housing would be lasting.

As the budget process moves forward, I will fight reckless cuts to programs that benefit our local communities.

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