Nov. 18, 2003
(At the request of Mr. Daschle, the following statement was ordered to be printed in the RECORD.)
Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to Chairman BOND and Senator Mikulski for their hard work in developing the Senate fiscal year 2004 VA-HUD and Independent Agencies appropriations bill. Considering the low authorization level for this important bill, they have done an excellent job maintaining priorities in Veterans health care, the environment and housing. It is vital that the full Senate-passed amount for Veterans healthcare be maintained in conference so that we don't lose more ground in caring for those who have borne the battle. However, it is obvious that additional resources are critically needed for many programs in these areas if they are to work as intended.
Understanding the difficult authorization level facing this committee, I would still like to express my strong support for additional funding for YouthBuild in the fiscal year 2004 VA-HUD and Independent Agencies conference report. Despite the repeated support of over 57 of our Senate colleagues for a funding level of $90 million, and despite the President's Budget request and House-passed level of $65 million, the Senate bill could only provide $60 million for a program that has proven its value and that is crucial to the lives of many young people. At the same time, 1,400 YouthBuild participants who are building housing for homeless and low-income people have lost access to AmeriCorps education awards due to the cutbacks in AmeriCorps.
Each year, YouthBuild receives strong bipartisan support because the program works. Eighty-five percent of students who complete the YouthBuild program either secure a job-at an average wage of more than $7.60 per hour-or go on to postsecondary education. The program's success rate is especially notable since YouthBuild serves an at-risk population, 80 percent of whom have previously dropped out of high school.
YouthBuild is a uniquely comprehensive program that offers at-risk youth an immediately productive role rebuilding their communities. Along with attending basic education classes for 50 percent of the program time, students receive job skills training in the well-paid construction field, personal counseling from respected mentors, a supportive peer group with positive values, and experience in community leadership and civic engagement. To date, 25,000 YouthBuild students have built over 10,000 units of affordable housing.
Despite its obvious success, YouthBuild is losing ground with more than 30 sites that have closed due to lack of funds since 1996. Most of the remaining programs enroll 25 percent fewer students than they did in 1997. In 2001, 56 experienced YouthBuild sites that qualified for funding from HUD did not receive it solely due to a lack of funding. Only two local programs have been funded continuously since 1994.
During the House-Senate conference, I hope that the Senate will yield to the House and provide $65 million for YouthBuild as the President has requested and the House of Representatives has provided. This is the least we can do. We must continue to fight to open the doors of opportunity and service to America's youth by supporting YouthBuild.