House Panel Approves Expansion Definition of Homelessness

H.R. 32 Stirs Debate Among Subcommittee
and National Advocates

Congresswoman Maxine WatersThe House Financial Services Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity approved H.R. 32, the Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2011 on February 7, 2012. The legislation now awaits action by the full Committee on Financial Services. A full committee markup of H.R. 32 and the other bills considered by the Subcommittee on February 7 has been scheduled tentatively for February 28, 2012 at 10:00 am.

H.R. 32 would expand the HUD definition of homelessness to align with the definition of homelessness used by the Department of Education. The expanded definition would count children living in “doubled-up” situations as homeless. Many advocates are concerned that without additional funding, the bill would dilute existing resources intended to serve people experiencing homelessness, with the result that the households in most need of help may not receive assistance.

The President’s proposed budget includes a 17% increase in funding for the McKinney Vento program. Advocating for this increased funding would help permanently house those most in need of help. Solutions beyond expanding the definition of homelessness exist. Increases in funding for homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing and expanding the supply of affordable housing would prevent families and children from facing the risk of homelessness.

Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) offered an amendment in the markup that would authorize appropriations to carry out the activities required under the bill. If adopted, this amendment would require compliance with the bill’s provisions only if sufficient resources were provided to implement them. The amendment failed by voice vote and the underlying bill, with technical changes made through an amendment in the nature of a substitute, was approved and reported out of the subcommittee by a voice vote.

Subcommittee Chair Judy Biggert (R-IL) expressed concern that the amendment from Ms. Waters would “negate the purpose of the bill” and that the authorization of appropriations would add a cost to the bill that would have to be offset. In response, Subcommittee Ranking Member Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) said that the bill as is would not solve any problems as there is no funding authorized to carry out the purpose of the bill.

National partners, including the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) and that National Alliance to End Homelessness (the Alliance) have weighed on this issue. While NLIHC thinks H.R. 32’s sponsor are very positively motivated, it does not support consideration of the bill at this time. The measure does not provide additional resources to serve the people who would be made newly eligible for HUD homeless services by the bill, and HUD is still in the process of implementing the HEARTH Act which was enacted in 2009.

“While there are a number of policy interventions that can mitigate the effects of homelessness on children, the fact remains that children, families, and society will all be better off if we can intervene to prevent homelessness from the outset. This can be done by assuring that sufficient resources are provided to ensure that all households have access to housing that is affordable to them,” said NLIHC President and CEO Sheila Crowley in a letter submitted for the record at a hearing on the bill in December 2011.

In an action alert sent out prior to the February 7 markup, the Alliance expressed strong opposition to H.R. 32, saying, “the legislation is well-intentioned but would have disastrous consequences. It would make an estimated additional 2.35 million children (and their parents) eligible to receive transitional housing and permanent supportive housing without providing any additional resources to serve them.”

Click here for an archived webcast of the markup.

Click here to see previous Monarch’s posts about a recent Huffington Post article on H.R. 3.