HUD Secretary Ben Carson testified on the Trump administration’s FY20 budget request before both the House and the Senate Appropriations Transportation-HUD (THUD) Subcommittees on April 3. Lawmakers from both parties criticized the budget request for its deep funding cuts, including the elimination of whole programs, and its inclusion of harmful policy proposals to raise rents and impose work requirements on people receiving housing assistance. The administration has proposed to cut $9.6 billion from HUD’s gross discretionary spending for FY20—an 18% cut from FY19 spending levels.
In her opening statement, Senate THUD Subcommittee Chair Susan Collins (R-ME) said that the budget “includes provisions that were rejected as part of our deliberations last year, and I predict that many of those same program eliminations and other cost-shifting gimmicks will once again be rejected. The request again reflects a significant realignment of the federal role in housing and community development.” Senator Collins expressed concern that, despite the affordable housing crisis, the administration was eliminating programs, like the national Housing Trust Fund and HOME Investment Partnerships program, that help develop new housing. She and Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI) pointed to the need to reach a deal to lift the austere caps on federal spending to adequately fund HUD programs.
In his testimony, Secretary Carson justified some of the administration’s budget cuts by saying that state and local governments are best suited to support the programs proposed for elimination. He spoke about the need to expand the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) to preserve public housing and advocated for the elimination of the statutory RAD cap on converting units, currently set at 455,000. He also discussed the administration’s proposal to increase rents and impose work requirements on people receiving housing assistance.
Senator Reed asked Secretary Carson about the delays in HUD providing Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds to areas impacted by recent natural disasters. Secretary Carson responded that the delay in getting the CDBG-DR notice in the Federal Register was caused by the government shutdown, as well as HUD’s efforts to ensure proper oversight of such a large amount of money, but he said the notice would be published by May 1. Secretary Carson could not answer whether the White House would request funding for the recent devastating floods that occurred in the Midwest. He also said HUD was currently reorganizing its Office of Disaster Management and updating IT systems to make the office more efficient.
Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) criticized the administration’s proposal to make significant cuts to public housing funding and pointed to two situations in his own state that highlighted the great need for more resources to address the growing capital needs of public housing agencies across the country.
Secretary Carson later testified that funding for lead-abatement grants provided by Congress last year would be available by the summer, and that new funding for Section 202 Housing for the Elderly would be available as soon as possible.
House THUD Subcommittee Chair David Price (D-NC) said in his opening remarks, “The department's most recent 'Worst Case Housing Needs' report to Congress identified more than 8 million renters who spend more than half of their income on rent, live in severely substandard conditions, or both. Yet today, just one in four families eligible for federal housing assistance gets the help they need — that’s 25 percent. At a time when housing should be a front-burner issue, we seem to be falling farther behind. As I’ve said before, this reality is not written in the stars; it is a political failing, and it can be remedied. That's why it's disappointing that the department — for the third year in a row — has put forward a budget request that is wholly inadequate for the task at hand.”
House Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey (D-NY) said, “There is no justification for these harsh cuts. Let me be clear, these cuts do not exist in a vacuum. If enacted, they would cost taxpayers even more than current investments in the very types of assistance you propose to eliminate or severely cut. Housing is the foundation on which the rest of a life is built. It is nearly impossible to go to school, get a job, raise a family, or age in place, without having a stable place to live. These investments play a big role in empowering hardworking families, giving children a good start in life and providing economic opportunity for all Americans.”
Chair Price and Ranking Member Mario Diaz-Balart asked Secretary Carson how soon HUD would make available the increased funds Congress provided last year for certain programs, including Native American block grants, Section 202 Housing for the Elderly program, Section 811 Housing for People with Disabilities program, and Section 811 Mainstream vouchers. Secretary Carson said notices of funding availability (NOFA) for those programs should be out by the end of this quarter. He also said that HUD was looking at ways to improve efficiency in getting money out to the field.
Chair Lowey asked Secretary Carson about HUD’s ability to implement recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommendations to improve the protocol for inspecting HUD-assisted properties, noting that the budget request would cut resources that could be used to inspect properties. Secretary talked about HUD’s recent action to reduce the time property owners know when they will be inspected to two weeks but acknowledged that HUD could use more inspectors and better training.
Appropriations Ranking Member Kay Granger (R-TX) asked Secretary Carson about unspent CDBG-DR funds and asked if it made sense to permanently authorize the program in statute to help get funding to communities more quickly. Secretary Carson said that could help but making the program statutory would not take into account the individualized nature of each disaster. He said he was willing to work with Congress to come up with a solution that would take into account both needs.
Chair Granger also asked about the status of the newly authorized Voucher Mobility Demonstration. Secretary Carson said the program is moving along well and HUD will be studying the barriers that prevent voucher holders from moving to areas of opportunity, including discrimination and stereotypes.
Representative Quigley (D-IL) criticized HUD for failing to replace guidance the administration had removed from its website on HUD’s equal-access rule to protect LGBTQ people seeking emergency shelter. “HUD grantees need guidance to avoid the discrimination and to make clear to them what the rules are,” Mr. Quigley said. Secretary Carson replied that Mr. Quigley “might not like” and “probably wouldn’t agree with” the HUD’s new guidance if the agency were to provide it.
Watch the Senate hearing at: https://bit.ly/2I2NwpH
Watch the House hearing at: https://bit.ly/2TPZogf