DISABLED VETERANS AND OTHER PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES -- (Senate - October 20, 2005)
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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I am proud to cosponsor the amendment that Senators Leahy, Coleman, Sarbanes, Graham and Reed have offered to protect funding for three programs critical to working families and low-income communities: the Community Development Block Grant, the Section 8 Voucher Program, and the Public Housing Operating and Capital Funds.
These programs expand opportunities to home ownership for working class families and help communities across the country pursue growth that develops poor communities without pushing out the poor themselves.
Let me talk about how each of these programs supports communities of hope and opportunity.
The Community Development Block Grant, CDBG, program makes it possible for our communities to improve their infrastructure, develop new businesses, provide important social services, and rehabilitate homes--all of which translates into expanded opportunity for people.
This year, Illinois will receive more than $196 million in CDBG funds. The State-level CDBG program alone has invested more than $33 million in projects around the State. As a result, 66,000 of my constituents received improved water, sanitary and storm water systems; small businesses were assisted in creating or retaining more than 1,000 jobs; and 313 homes in 27 communities were rehabilitated to address health and safety issues.
Cities throughout Illinois also leverage CDBG funds for 2,500 affordable housing units, economic development in 70 communities, job training and placement for nearly 900 low-income residents, and health care services for more than 235,000 people.
And beyond being good policy, these programs are fiscally responsible. For the State-level CDBG program, every dollar invested in Illinois infrastructure and housing yielded over three additional dollars in other private or public investment. That translates into $109 million in additional dollars for communities across Illinois. If only all government investments could yield that kind of return.
The other economic development programs this amendment would protect are funding for the Section 8 Voucher Program and the Public Housing Operating and Capital Funds. These two programs form the foundation of housing support in this country for low-income individuals and families.
Over a million households in Illinois spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent. The Section 8 program addresses this problem by making more than 76,000 Housing Choice Vouchers available to Illinois residents each year. But that still leaves 56,000 households in Illinois on Section 8 waiting lists, and the lists are getting longer. Families waiting on Section 8 vouchers are either paying too much of their income on housing--and too little on food and healthcare--or they are joining the ranks of the more than 8 percent of Illinoisans who have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives. This situation is unacceptable, and this amendment begins to address it.
The amendment also shores up funding for the Public Housing Operating and Capital Funds. Millions of Americans call public housing ``home,'' and more than 62 percent of public housing residents are families with children or elderly households. The operating fund helps these residents by making money available for building maintenance, utilities, and the salaries of Public Housing Authority employees. And the capital fund is a critical tool for maintaining housing infrastructure. It helps local housing authorities modernize, rehabilitate or replace aging units, thereby assuring that families live in safe homes.
Communities and families across my State, and indeed across the country, depend on these programs to help them move forward. As housing stock and infrastructure continues to age, and voucher waiting lists continue to grow, we cannot afford to take money away from the working class folks who need it most. I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.
Mr. GRAHAM. Mr. President, I am expressing my support of an amendment to provide additional funding for the Community Development Block Grants, CDBG, Program.
I share the concerns of many of my colleagues that some government programs are overreaching and duplicative. I remain committed to goals of limiting the size and scope of the Federal Government, but as we fulfill this mission, Congress must work to ensure that we continue to support programs that truly serve the needs of our constituents.
CDBG grants have benefited almost 130,000 people in South Carolina alone. Further, over ten thousand jobs have been created through CDBG projects. The CDBG program is one of HUD's most successful programs. It should be held up as an example of local communities, coordinating with their state, to using Federal dollars to foster growth and encourage citizen participation.
In listening to community leaders across the state of South Carolina, the CDBG program gives them flexibility to execute plans that accurately address their situational needs, which in turn pay great dividends for the community. To put it simply, the CDBG program works and I am a proud to be an original cosponsor of this amendment.
Mr. KOHL. Mr. President, we are staring at an approaching disaster. Again, we face a disaster that will largely affect the poor, underprivileged, elderly, and handicapped. Again, it is a disaster that will threaten lives and drive people into bankruptcy. But this time Congress can take action to avoid this disaster. The question is will we act?
Today the approaching disaster is not a hurricane but high energy prices. Estimates are that the costs of heating the average home with natural gas will skyrocket 70 percent over last year in the Midwest. This is on top of the double-digit increases between 2003 and 2004. Utility companies in the State of Wisconsin believe that the homeowners will face heating bills in my State that are 40 percent higher than last year. For working families, these dramatic increases come on top of several months of increasing prices at the gas pump.
These high prices will force many to make difficult choices about how to spend their money, which bills to pay, and which to avoid. For many, the thermostat will be turned down to dangerous levels, prescriptions will go unfilled, and groceries will not be bought. For many elderly folks, the choice to stay warm will be dangerous, even fatal. Many disabled Americans will endanger their own health in an effort to keep their bills low.
The Federal Low-Income Home Heating Assistance, or LIHEAP, can help make some of these choices easier. LIHEAP is an extremely effective program that allows low-income people around the country to avoid being delinquent on their heating bills. The problem is that there has not been a significant increase in the funding of this program for many years, and now the rising prices have made the current funding levels unacceptably low. In past years LIHEAP has only been able to help roughly 17 percent of the eligible households, but now with rapidly rising prices the $2 billion in funding will not even be able to meet that level.
Adding $3.1 billion to LIHEAP will allow us to head off this impending catastrophe. I have voted for this amendment before, and I am glad to have the opportunity to support it again today. This money is absolutely necessary to keep my constituents safe and warm through the long Wisconsin winter. Without this money more working class people in my State will face high utility bills this winter and utility shutoffs come spring. Until Congress and the administration can figure out some way to bring energy prices down, relieving the pressure on low-income Americans should be a top priority.