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Transportation, Housing And Urban Development, And Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010--Continued

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC

TRANSPORTATION, HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2010--Continued -- (Senate - September 15, 2009)

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AMENDMENT NO. 2376

Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to set aside any pending amendment and call up amendment No. 2376.

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Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, my amendment, No. 2376, is very simple and straightforward. To understand it, we need to go back a little bit, to 1998. In 1998, Congress passed the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act, a law requiring all able-bodied people living in public housing to perform 8 hours per month of community service, with the idea that individuals who are getting this benefit from all of the other taxpayers should give back, should contribute to the community as some partial repayment for the very significant benefit they are getting. I think that concept had--and I certainly hope it still has--widespread consensus, bipartisan support. It has been the law since 1998.

Unfortunately, some folks in Congress--I believe a minority, but some folks in Congress--want to throw this basic, straightforward community service requirement out the window. In fact, in 2001, these proponents actually got language included in the VA/HUD appropriations bill which temporarily, for that one fiscal year, did do away with this community service requirement. It was just that 1 year. That is the only year since 1998 where the requirement was thrown out the window, but it did happen in that year.

Unfortunately, those same folks, like-minded folks, have made the attempt again, and in this year's VA/HUD appropriations bill on the House side, before a lot of advocates for the community service requirement were able to take notice, a similar amendment doing away with the community service requirement was passed through the House by voice. Again, this slipped through. The advocates of the community service requirement did not notice; otherwise, they would have demanded a rollcall vote. But it did slip through by voice.

It is very important that we correct that and preserve the community service requirement in the Senate version of the bill so we can also preserve it in the final version of this appropriations bill. This is a very basic, straightforward idea with which I believe the huge majority of the American people agree. It is simply saying: If you are getting a benefit from the taxpayer, you are getting free or highly subsidized public housing, and you are able-bodied, then you should help repay for that benefit by simply devoting 8 hours per month--not per week, 8 hours per month--to community service.

I want to emphasize a few things. No. 1, this applies to fully able-bodied recipients of the benefit only. Exempted residents, for instance, include those who are 62 years old or older, those who are disabled and can certify they cannot comply with the requirement, caretakers of a person with a disability, those engaged in work activities or are exempt from work activities under TANF, family members in compliance with TANF, or the State welfare program's work requirements. That is separate, and they would be exempt and are exempt from this.

Still, according to the Congressional Research Service, after you take all those exempt individuals out, HUD estimates there are approximately 100,000 to 150,000 households that include folks who would have to meet this requirement.

I believe, when you consider the requirement, 8 hours of community service per month, when you consider the exemptions for folks over 62, for folks who have any disability, for folks who are not able-bodied in any way, this public service requirement is truly minimal and thoroughly reasonable. I believe that is why it passed into law in 1998 with broad public and bipartisan support. I believe that is why we should retain it in law today and make sure the House attempt to throw that requirement out the window is not successful.

Public housing authorities are given broad discretion in implementing and enforcing this requirement. There is no absolute penalty for not meeting this requirement. Folks are not immediately thrown out of their public housing. All of this has been done in an as modest, frankly, and absolutely reasonable way as possible. I urge my colleagues, Democrats and Republicans, to retain this important part of present law, to retain this commonsense approach that a wide majority, a broad majority of the American people support. I certainly hope this amendment could be accepted or, if not, retained by a good vote on the floor of the Senate that is overwhelming and bipartisan.

With that, I yield the floor. I suggest the absence of a quorum.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Will the Senator withhold the request for a quorum call?

Mr. VITTER. I will.

Mrs. MURRAY. The Senator from Louisiana offers an amendment that makes sure the community service requirement for people living in public housing remains in effect. This includes part of the existing law and is currently being enforced by public housing authorities. What the amendment of the Senator does is simply restate current law. I will be happy to accept it. If the Senator is willing, we can take it on a voice vote at the present time. I am willing to move forward with it.

Mr. VITTER. I will be happy to consider that offer and get back to the distinguished Senator. My only concern is we have as much ammunition as possible to retain this provision in conference, which a very good rollcall vote could perhaps give us. That is my only concern, since the House version of the bill has taken this language out. I will be happy to consider that offer and personally follow up with the distinguished Senator.

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