House Conducts Hearing on the Family Self-Sufficiency Program

The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance held a hearing on September 27 examining HUD’s Family Self-Sufficiency program (FSS). While the FSS program was praised as a success and subcommittee members supported the program’s goals and methods, witnesses expressed a need for additional funding and encouraged subcommittee members to introduce legislation to improve the program. Representative Emmanuel Cleaver (D-MO) promised to introduce partner legislation in the House mirroring Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Jack Reed’s (D-RI) “Family Self-Sufficiency Act of 2017,” which seeks to improve the program by adding important supportive services regarding educational attainment and financial literacy, extending eligibility requirements, and streamlining administration of the program (see Memo, 6/19).

Since its establishment, the FSS program has enabled families living in public or project-based housing or using Housing Choice Vouchers to access workforce training and other resources to pursue higher paying employment opportunities. Families enrolled in the FSS program receive an interest-bearing escrow account, empowering them to save and apply that savings to work-related purchases.

Representative Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX) asked about the program’s ability to help participants obtain employment other than minimum-wage jobs, citing NLIHC’s Out of Reach data showing that nowhere in the country can a minimum-wage worker afford a modest one-bedroom apartment. Stacy Spann of Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County explained how the county’s program focuses on finding participants jobs with career advancement potential by providing workforce training and educational opportunities for adults and children. A major goal of the county’s program, she said, is to close the gap between the participants’ income and the median area income in the county.

Responding to Representative Keith Rothfus’s (R-PA) question about making the FSS program mandatory, witnesses stressed that while the program has helped many families attain self-sufficiency, the FSS program will not work for every family and should be kept voluntary. Those testifying did encourage expanding the program through increased funding. 

Republican committee members expressed concerns about efficiency, fraud, and waste in the program and asked about how the program used funding and measured success. Witnesses gave varying graduation rates for their programs ranging from 30% to 75%, but all reported increased earnings, credit scores, access to quality financial products, savings, and confidence for participants. Because some families leave the program for positive reasons, such as moving out of public housing early, graduation rates do not fully capture the benefits of the program. All of the funding is used to pay coordinators of the program, and no witness had heard any reports of abuse or fraud.

Learn more about the hearing at: