In an effort to help low-income families receiving federal housing assistance develop the skills they need to improve their financial status and achieve greater economic independence, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) today introduced the Family Self-Sufficiency Act. The bipartisan bill enhances the existing U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program, which helps families enrolled in housing voucher or public housing programs increase their earnings, build savings, and make progress toward self-sufficiency.
The Reed-Blunt legislation would make the FSS program more effective by streamlining the administration of the program, broadening the supportive services that can be provided to a participant, and extending the FSS program to tenants who live in privately-owned properties with project-based assistance.
"Every American wants the opportunity to succeed. The FSS program helps families receiving federal housing assistance to set and achieve their financial goals so they can become independent. It provides a roadmap to stability and links them to critical support services to get there, like help with education, job-training, or childcare so individuals can support their families. Ultimately, this is about helping people help themselves," said Senator Reed. "Our bill will streamline the program and make it more effective so it can reach more residents and give more folks an opportunity to build a better life."
"I'm glad to support this bipartisan bill, which will help empower people to get back on their feet and become economically independent at a time when hardworking families in Missouri and nationwide are struggling to make ends meet," said Senator Blunt.
Public housing agencies (PHAs) in Rhode Island, Missouri, and other states nationwide currently receive federal funding to develop local family self-sufficiency strategies to help participating families obtain employment that will lead to economic independence and self-sufficiency. Service coordinators work with local partners to develop a comprehensive program that gives participating FSS family members the skills, experience, and support to enable them to obtain economic independence and housing self-sufficiency.
The PHA and the head of each participating family execute an FSS contract of participation that specifies the rights and responsibilities of both parties. The 5-year FSS contract specifies goals and services for each family. Family members must fulfill all requirements in order to obtain full benefits.
Enrollees in the program also have the benefit of an escrow account. Generally, as a person's income rises, federal housing assistance decreases so that the rent a person pays increases. Through the Family Self Sufficiency program, when a family's income rises, a portion of their rent increase is deposited in an interest-bearing escrow account. If the program participant successfully completes the FSS contract, they then receive the escrow funds which may be used for things like additional workforce training or the purchase or maintenance of a car to help with their commute to work.
Last year, HUD allocated approximately $75 million in federal FSS funding. A recent study conducted by HUD's Office of Policy Development & Research showed the average escrow account balance was over $5,200. The report also found that between 2005 and 2009, the average annual income for FSS graduates had increased from $19,902 to $33,390.
Specifically, the Reed-Blunt bill will:
Streamline the FSS program by combining Housing Choice Voucher-FSS and Public Housing-FSS into one program. This will relieve PHAs of the unnecessary burden of running two separate programs that both have the same goal.
Broaden the scope of the supportive services that may be offered to include attainment of a GED, education in pursuit of a post-secondary degree or certification, and training in financial literacy. Providing families in need with affordable rental housing is critical, but coupling it with the support and services to help families get ahead increases the effectiveness of this federal investment. The Reed-Blunt bill makes it easier for FSS participants to obtain the training necessary to secure employment and the education to make prudent financial decisions to better safeguard their earnings.
Expand the reach of the FSS program to more families who are currently excluded due to a technicality related to the kind of housing assistance a family receives. The bill would open up the FSS program to families who live in privately-owned properties subsidized with project-based rental assistance. It shouldn't matter what kind of housing assistance a family gets, and families seeking to achieve self-sufficiency shouldn't be held back by this sort of technicality.