During the week of March 10, the House Appropriations Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies subcommittee held a hearing, while the Transportation, HUD, and Related Agencies (THUD) subcommittee’s postponed a hearing with HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan due to a scheduling conflict. The full House Appropriations Committee set deadlines for Members of Congress to submit programmatic funding and language requests. The deadline for the Agriculture subcommittee is March 31 and the deadline for the THUD subcommittee is April 2. The Senate THUD programmatic request deadline is April 4.
The House Appropriations Agriculture subcommittee held its hearing on March 13 with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.
In his opening statement, House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers (R-KY), questioned the Administration’s proposal to cut funding for housing programs. “Once again in this year’s budget, the request proposes a significant cut to the Section 502 Direct Loan and the Mutual and Self Help Housing programs. We have seen this kind of smoke screen time and again from this administration: where funding is cut for useful programs in order to make room for new spending and create the illusion of budget savings. The concern I have is that this shows a disrespect for our rural communities and the constituents who have made these programs successful,” Chair Rogers said. Later in the hearing, Representative David Valadao (R-CA) associated himself with the Chair’s remarks, asking Secretary Vilsack directly, “why cut?” The Secretary asked what programs he should have cut given budget caps.
Secretary Vilsack also said that the increased cost of USDA’s rental assistance programs is due to all contracts now being funded annually, compared to 15 years ago, “In FY15, we have 11,000 additional rental units that we have to finance, which results in a need for increased focus on the 285,000 families that receive rental assistance,” he said.
In his opening remarks, Secretary Vilsack said that, “we will continue to reform rental assistance programs, we need to right-size the programs, and we need the tools to do that.” USDA’s FY15 proposal to impose minimum rents was not raised in the hearing. However, in advance of the hearing, NLIHC issued a statement opposing implementing minimum rents for households receiving USDA rental assistance. The mandatory minimum rent proposal would affect the other 10% of households living in Section 515 Rural Rental Housing and Section 514 and 516 Farm Labor Housing with USDA rental assistance whose incomes are so low that they currently pay less than $50 a month in rent. These households have adjusted annual incomes of less than $2,000. “We oppose this request and hope that Congress does too,” said NLIHC President and CEO Sheila Crowley in a March 13 statement.
Also, the National Housing Law Project (NHLP) issued a summary of the impact of minimum rents on rural housing residents. The households that would be affected are “the absolute poorest households residing in RD housing. They typically do not have a regular source of income,” says NHLP. NHLP criticizes USDA for touting the benefits of rental assistance in its budget request while proposing a rent policy that “will impact the most destitute tenants who have the least capacity to pay minimum rent.”
Representative Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX) is circulating a “dear colleague” sign-on letter in support of Rural Housing funding for USDA. “We… ask that the Subcommittee maintain adequate funding for programs that contribute to addressing the pressing need for affordable rental housing in rural America. These rural housing programs are critical to the creation and repair of housing units in rural communities across America,” writes Mr. Hinojosa. The letter requests $30 million for Section 514 Farm Labor Housing Program Loans, $10 million for Section 516 Farm Labor Housing Program Grants, $31.3 million for Section 515 Rural Rental Housing Program, and $1.1 billion for Section 521 Multi-Family Rental Housing Rental Assistance. The deadline to sign the letter is March 28. Members of Congress can sign by contacting Holly Bullard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
View Secretary Vilsack’s testimony, Chair Rogers’ statement, and an archived webcast of the House hearing at: http://1.usa.gov/1i0YFSO
View the rural housing dear colleague: http://bit.ly/1fSDz9c
View NLIHC’s March 13 statement: http://nlihc.org/press/releases/4124
View NHLP’s summary at: http://bit.ly/1d7dd49