Economic Recovery Package Should Include Housing Vouchers

A new report by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities forecasts a further increase in homeless families with children. Indeed, communities across the country are already reporting significant increases.

CBPP cites data from two recent reports I’ve already written about–the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ 2008 Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness and the survey of school districts by the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth and Focus First.

To these, CBPP adds alarming new figures. For example, compared to the same periods in 2007:

  • The number of families entering homeless shelters in New York City increased by 40%.
  • In Massachusetts, the number of families in state-supported emergency shelters increased by 32%.
  • Family homeless shelters in Connecticut turned away 30% more families due to lack of bed space.

The problem is not only rising unemployment. As CBPP explains, the housing market crisis is an important factor. Foreclosures are displacing not only homeowners, but renters. They are all seeking to get into a relative few vacant rental units, unintentionally driving up rates beyond what many families can afford.

A third factor is the frayed safety net. As CBPP says, the unemployment insurance program hasn’t been updated to reflect changes in the labor market. So many laid-off low-income and part-time workers aren’t receiving UI benefits. Add to this the facts that:

  • The TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) program is serving only 40% of eligible families–a far lower percent than were assisted under the “welfare” program it replaced.
  • Most states have eliminated general assistance programs, except for severely disabled people.

A previous CBPP report recommended, among other things, expansions of the UI and TANF programs as part of the pending economic recovery package. This report focuses on another earlier CBPP recommendation–a significant increase in housing vouchers.

CBPP calls for 200,000 new vouchers, without restrictions that would disqualify most poor families, as the scant number of new 2008 vouchers do. The additional vouchers, it says, would enable state and local agencies to serve 10% more families and could be crafted to avert long-term pressures on the federal budget.

In addition, CBPP recommends an increase in the Emergency Shelter Program–something also recommended by NAEHCY and First Focus. This would fund short-term assistance to prevent families from becoming homeless.

These two measures would cost about 0.005% of the projected total economic recovery package–a very small investment with a large return for homeless families and our communities.

There’s a ton of news about the economic recovery package, little or nothing about help for homeless families. But then who is lobbying for them with anything like the clout of those who will profit most from funding for construction projects and corporate tax cuts?

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