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Expand and Preserve Home Ownership Through Counseling Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


EXPAND AND PRESERVE HOME OWNERSHIP THROUGH COUNSELING ACT -- (House of Representatives - September 17, 2008)

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Mrs. BIGGERT. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, as the author of H.R. 3019, the Expand and Preserve Home Ownership Through Counseling Act, I urge my colleagues to support this legislation. First let me thank Congressman Ruben Hinojosa for being the lead Democrat on this bill.

In 2005, we founded the House Financial and Economic Literacy Caucus, which is now over 75 members strong, and we have been working together on this issue for a very long time. This bill is just one more example of how financial literacy can promote economic security and empower Americans to make more informed decisions.

Second, I would like to thank Chairman Frank and Ranking Member Bachus for their support for this legislation. Both the chairman and ranking member have included the language of this bill in various mortgage and housing packages, two of which, as Mr. Scott said, have previously passed the House but not the other Chamber. The first time was in November of 2007, and the second time was in H.R. 3221, and that bill passed the House on May 8 of this year. Unfortunately, the Senate has not yet acted on this important legislation. It is my hope that the Senate will consider the bill as a stand-alone measure and send it to the President's desk before we adjourn this year.

What does the bill do? Well, it elevates housing counseling within the Department of Housing and Urban Development by establishing an Office of Housing Counseling and a director of that office who reports directly to the Secretary of HUD. The office will be tasked with carrying out and coordinating HUD's Home Ownership and Housing Rental Counseling Program, targeted at low and moderate income individuals, the homeless and the seniors, just to name a few.

More specifically, the bill authorizes $180 million over the next 4 years for HUD to operate this office, offer grants to State and local counseling agencies and launch a national outreach campaign. The bill also calls for the office to provide a report to Congress on the root causes of defaults and foreclosures, including recommendations for policy reforms and best practices, as well as identification of populations most in need of counseling.

Mr. Speaker, counseling can help guide homeowners into a loan that best meets their budgets and needs, steering them way from possible foreclosure down the road. Housing counseling, one form of financial literacy, is often the first line of defense that first-time home buyers have against predatory lending practices.

In addition, counselors can save the homes of borrowers currently facing foreclosure. So many troubled mortgage holders genuinely want to pay for their home and had solid payment histories before their rates were reset. These are people that if given the right refinancing options, can and would be able to make their monthly payments. But they need someone to help them evaluate their options, guide them through the process and facilitate discussions with their current lenders.

One thing that we have learned during this downturn in the housing market is that many Americans need to better understand the terms of financial products, including and especially mortgages. Education is one of the most important tools in our arsenal to keep our economy and American families on sound financial footing. It is my hope that by providing greater access to home counseling services, we can help to prevent a repeat performance of the recent housing bubble.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to conclude today by thanking the folks at the DuPage Homeownership Center of Northern Will County in Illinois. They have helped so many residents of the 13th Congressional District of Illinois to secure sound mortgages or avoid foreclosure. And I would like to thank all the counselors and organizations across the country that are now involved in the HOPE NOW initiative, which reported last month it had helped over 2 million homeowners to avoid foreclosure.

With that, I would urge my colleagues to support the bill.

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Mrs. BIGGERT. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Scott) for his very kind words. I really appreciate it. He is a wonderful member of the Financial Services Committee and is always there and always knows what is going on and always participates and does a good job. I thank you for all your work.

With that, I urge my colleagues to support this bill.

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