Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, questioned Shaun Donovan, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, on the impacts of sequestration on housing vouchers in King County. The King County Housing Authority recently announced that it will not be re-issuing vouchers, leaving low-income Washington families without access to affordable housing.
"These families are paying the price for the fact that Washington D.C. continues to lurch from crisis to crisis instead of compromising around a balanced deficit reduction plan," Senator Murray said in her opening statement. "As we continue to debate the future of the federal budget, they are a clear reminder that our decisions have consequences. Because this debate is about more than just numbers, it is about people's lives and the nation's values."
Senator Murray's opening statement follows:
"This morning we welcome Secretary Donovan to the Subcommittee to discuss the President's fiscal year 2014 budget request for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
"As we begin our discussion of next year's budget, we must acknowledge where we are today.
"Because of the unwillingness of some in Congress to compromise on fair and balanced deficit reduction, we are now living with sequestration and the arbitrary cuts to federal spending it requires.
"And while some here in Washington D.C. have claimed that the impact is minimal, that's not the story that people all across the country who have to live with sequestration's consequences are telling.
"The truth is these cuts are having an impact.
"And in so many cases it's an impact that's being felt by the most vulnerable in our society.
"The cut to HUD's Section 8 voucher program for example is more than $938 million, forcing housing authorities to make difficult choices to stay within their reduced budgets.
"On the ground, this means tens of thousands of fewer vouchers to help low-income families find safe, affordable housing.
"In my home state of Washington, the King County Housing Authority announced that it will not be re-issuing vouchers, leaving low-income Washington families without access to affordable housing.
"Stephen Norman the King County Housing Authority Director said immediately after he was forced to make these cuts that "Because rents are so high, many of these families, may, quite literally, find themselves out on the street as a result of these arbitrary cuts.'
"And they are not alone. Many housing authorities across the country are being forced to make similar decisions.
"In other communities, families that were in the process of finding a place to live after spending months or years on a waiting list have been told that their voucher has been withdrawn.
"They are losing the hope and relief of finally having access to affordable housing. Instead they are left with frustration and uncertainty.
"These families are paying the price for the fact that Washington D.C. continues to lurch from crisis to crisis instead of compromising around a balanced deficit reduction plan.
"As we continue to debate the future of the federal budget, they are a clear reminder that our decisions have consequences.
"Because this debate is about more than just numbers, it is about people's lives and the nation's values.
"This debate is also occurring at a critical time for our economy.
"After struggling through the Great Recession, the economy is finally growing. But recent jobs reports highlight how fragile recovery is and that we cannot afford to push off the hard choices a budget deal requires.
"Our focus needs to be on creating jobs today, while laying a strong foundation for the future.
"A responsible plan will reduce the nation's deficit. But it cannot be at the expense of the most vulnerable or investments in things like infrastructure and education that are essential for a strong economy.
"The Budget we recently passed in the Senate provides a path forward that balances responsible spending cuts with necessary investments. I look forward to working with my colleagues in both the House and Senate to try and enact a responsible budget compromise.
"This will require hard choices on all sides, but the American public expects action.
"As we continue work on the budget, we must also begin our work on the fiscal year 2014 appropriations bills.
"And today, this Subcommittee begins its work by examining HUD's budget request.
"The majority of HUD's budget supports a critical part of the nation's safety net--housing assistance. This includes funding for: Section 8 vouchers, project-based section 8, public housing, and homeless assistance grants.
"These programs have long provided low-income Americans with safe affordable housing and shelter in times of crises.
"These programs are even more important today as families struggle to find affordable housing.
"According to HUD's recent report on the worst-case housing needs, in 2011, there were over 8.5 million low-income renters who spent more than 50 percent of their income on housing, lived in severely substandard housing, or both.
"Perhaps even more troubling is the fact this number has grown by 43.5 percent since 2007.
"As we struggle to address the growing housing needs with limited resources, federal programs must be smarter and more agile. Neither the taxpayers nor the millions of people who rely on these programs can afford waste or inefficiency.
"So it is incumbent upon HUD and this Subcommittee to ensure accountability. We must look for ways to improve program oversight and delivery by: ensuring people are following the rules, eliminating outdated regulations, streamlining programs, and improving coordination across government programs to make the best use of scarce resources.
"Improving federal programs goes beyond ensuring compliance. It also means focusing on outcomes.
"Successful housing programs are those that create new opportunities for their residents so that they can improve their lives and those of their children.
"In Washington State, I have seen exciting partnerships among: housing authorities, schools, community colleges, and employers designed to reduce poverty and its lasting impacts.
"These partnerships are built on an understanding that housing can and should do more than meet the basic need for shelter.
"Housing in strong, safe neighborhoods with access to good schools, jobs, services, and transportation can help transform people's lives.
"The President's budget includes an initiative called "Ladders to Opportunity", which is focused on: creating jobs, attracting private investment, improving educational outcomes, and increasing economic activity in high poverty communities across the nation.
"Several proposals in HUD's budget support this initiative, including: Choice Neighborhoods, the Rental Assistance Demonstration, and the Neighborhood Stabilization Initiative.
"In addition, the budget includes a new pilot program to help address the needs of the growing low-income elderly population, funding to combat mold in Indian Country, and expansion of the successful Jobs-Plus program for public housing residents.
"While all of these proposals address important issues facing urban and rural communities across the country, we must evaluate both their budgetary cost and HUD's capacity to take on new initiatives.
"HUD cannot effectively manage new initiatives at the cost of the performance and oversight of existing programs.
"The Department must improve its oversight of public housing authorities and other grantees; deliver on the needed investments in its IT systems; and continue to strengthen FHA's Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund, which the budget anticipates needing to draw on taxpayer funds for the first time in its history.
"As our housing market continues its recovery, now is the time to be thinking of the future of the nation's housing policy.
"This conversation is appropriately focused on reforming our housing finance system to ensure a strong housing market, supported primarily by the private market. But this conversation must also address the future of affordable rental housing.
"Recently the Bipartisan Policy Center's Housing Commission released recommendations for the future of housing policy.
"My friend, former Senator Kit Bond, was a member. Their recommendations support homeownership and the need to reform our nation's housing finance system.
"The Commission also reaffirmed the importance of affordable housing.
"Its recommendations provide a good foundation for beginning the discussion of our nation's housing policy, which I look forward to continuing today."