Senate THUD Subcommittee Questions HUD Secretary Carson on FY21 Funding Request, Coronavirus Response

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development held a hearing on March 11 to review HUD’s fiscal year (FY) 2021 funding request and budget justification. Members of the subcommittee questioned HUD Secretary Ben Carson on the president’s budget request to slash HUD funding by 15%, as well as HUD’s coronavirus prevention strategies.

The president’s FY21 budget request proposed cutting HUD funding by $8.6 billion (15%) compared to FY20 enacted levels. Secretary Carson stated the requested cuts and program eliminations are necessary to reduce the national deficit. He acknowledged that several of the programs the budget proposed eliminating, such as the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program and the Federal Housing Administration, are excellent models, but he stated that state and local governments should be providing these resources rather than the federal government. 

In her opening remarks, Subcommittee Chair Susan Collins (R-ME) quoted NLIHC’s report The Gap: A Shortage of Affordable Homes, noting “no state has an adequate supply of affordable rental housing.” She stated that programs like the national Housing Trust Fund (HTF) “are critical to meet the housing needs of low-income families,” and that the administration’s proposed elimination of the HTF, CDBG, the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, the Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing program, and youth homelessness grants are highly unlikely, given the fact “every state [suffers] from a lack of affordable rental housing.” Senator Collins also questioned the administration’s proposal for steep cuts to public housing programs and noted that the budget request’s proposed policy changes “would shift more of the cost of rental assistance to already struggling working families.”

Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI) noted his support for sustained funding for homeless assistance through the Continuum of Care program but expressed concern over the proposed cuts in resources for the Emergency Solutions Grant program, particularly during the coronavirus outbreak. “As the epidemic of the coronavirus continues to expand, unsheltered homeless are particularly vulnerable,” Senator Reed said. “There isn’t much direction for state and local communities . . . [to provide] temporary housing assistance for unsheltered homeless.” Senator Reed also questioned HUD’s disaster recovery response in Puerto Rico, calling the agency’s response “unfair, to say the least. . . . Out of the $20 billion allocated to Puerto Rico after the catastrophic hurricanes of 2017, the island has only had access to a total of $3.2 billion of the appropriated funding.”

Secretary Carson maintained that the proposed budget “will support HUD’s combined efforts to provide safe, decent, and affordable housing for the American people, while being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.” He also alluded to the administration’s “new initiative to reduce unsheltered homelessness” but did not offer any details about what the initiative would entail or how it would be administered.

Several senators expressed concerns over HUD’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Senator Collins noted that two of HUD’s key constituents, people experiencing homelessness and seniors, have a higher risk of contracting the virus. When asked what HUD is doing to ensure people experiencing homelessness and residents of federally assisted housing are safe, Secretary Carson responded that HUD established a task force to discuss “how [HUD can] remain efficient, what contingency plans are needed in case [HUD staff] have to work from home, how to get the cleaning staff to clean appropriate places in the appropriate way.” The secretary noted that HUD has developed a toolkit for public housing authorities (PHAs), assisted housing providers, and operators of Section 202 housing for the elderly to share best practices and connect agencies with local health programs to contact should they need further assistance.

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) said that she was “incredibly frustrated and very concerned” by the administration’s lack of urgency in responding to coronavirus. Senator Murray asked whether HUD was preparing for potential mass shelter needs; Secretary Carson responded by saying mass shelter needs were “primarily a FEMA issue” and providing people experiencing homelessness with medical care “[falls] to the state health agencies.” The senator noted that PHAs do not have adequate cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment to safely assist people experiencing homelessness and asked whether HUD has any plans to provide PHAs with additional supplies. “That would not be something that HUD would do,” Secretary Carson responded. “HUD does not have a mechanism for distributing all that material over the country.” Senator Murray pushed back, stating “these are our facilities, these are our employees, these are our people in these sites, and they need to know, should or when they have an outbreak, . . . they will be protected. Having personal protection and equipment so they can respond to an outbreak in one of our housing units is absolutely important . . . so as they respond to this, they are not getting the virus and spreading it to their families.”  

Watch a recording of the hearing at: