This was a productive couple of days for U.S. Representative Judy Biggert (R-IL-13th) who secured House or committee passage of three of her signature initiatives introduced at the beginning of the 111th Congress. The measures are aimed at preventing foreclosure, fighting mortgage fraud, and helping low-income families achieve independence from public assistance. She also secured House passage today of a resolution, H. Res. 357, declaring April Financial Literacy Month, for which she was the lead GOP cosponsor.
"It's always a great day when you have the opportunity to advance a positive, bipartisan agenda," said Biggert, a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee. "These bills will address underlying weaknesses in the housing market while helping families who have been adversely affected by the economic downturn."
Each of the three bills passed the House last Congress, either as stand-alone bills or as part of broader legislation. However, no action was taken in the Senate prior to adjournment. Biggert attached two of them in the committee process as provisions in other related priority legislation and passed the third as a stand-alone measure in the House.
The Stop Mortgage Fraud Act, one of Biggert's highest priorities, would strengthen law enforcement's ability to combat mortgage fraud, especially in hard-hit areas like Chicago, by authorizing additional funding for the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate and prosecute mortgage fraud. Last year alone, mortgage fraud increased by 42 percent. Since 2000, it has grown an astounding 1,200 percent. Biggert provisions to set aside funding for this purpose passed the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday by voice vote as part of H.R. 1748, a larger financial crimes bill of which Biggert is an original cosponsor.
The Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Act of 2009, H.R. 46, passed the House today by a vote of 397 to 19. It expands the availability of FSS programs offered in connection with HUD's Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program by ensuring that local public housing authorities have the consistent coordinator funding necessary to administer FSS programs and better serve their populations. FSS programs provide homeownership counseling, job training, child care, education, and other services to help low-income families reduce their dependence on public assistance.
Finally, the Expand and Preserve Home Ownership Through Counseling Act, H.R. 47, was approved by the Financial Services Committee today by a vote of 49 to 21 as part of a larger mortgage reform measure, H.R. 1728. Biggert's provisions would expand the availability of HUD-approved housing counseling services, offer grants to state and local agencies, launch a national outreach campaign, and establish an office of housing counseling within HUD. Counselors can help guide homeowners into a loan that best meets their budget and needs - steering them away from possible foreclosure down the road.
"Mortgage fraud is rampant, especially in urban and suburban communities. And too many people are facing foreclosure because of bad financial advice or none at all," said Biggert. "These families need help, and by protecting them from bad actors and giving them assistance in working with their lenders, we can help restore the housing market at a minimum cost to taxpayers. I'm grateful to my colleagues from both sides of the aisle who have worked with me to move this important legislation forward."