Vouchers increasing by fits and starts
President Barack Obama made several promises related to veterans' welfare during the 2008 election. Among them was his pledge to expand housing vouchers for homeless veterans.
A little history on housing for homeless veterans: In 1992, the Department of Housing and Development (HUD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs began the HUD-VASH program. The program provides vouchers to aid veterans in finding a place to live by subsidizing a portion of rental payment.
In June 2010, the Obama administration announced a plan to end homelessness in a report entitled, "Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.” The administration incorporated the program into its five-year plan to eliminate veteran homelessness by 2015.
Congress provided funds for 10,000 additional vouchers each year from 2008-2010, leading to a total of 30,000 by the end of fiscal year 2010. Congress cut the program's funding in the 2011 budget from a proposed additional $75 million to $50 million. This pays for approximately 7,000 additional vouchers.
The program's funding levels for 2012 are yet to be determined. The Obama administration's proposal requested $75 million for 10,000 new vouchers. Congress may pare down this amount as it did the previous year. We spoke with a representative from the American Legion -- a national veterans' group -- who said the organization only expects 7,000 vouchers for 2012.
So does this mean the voucher program is shrinking or growing? The Department of Veterans Affairs told us that approximately 31,000 of 37,000 vouchers appropriated by Congress are in use. This means that 31,000 veterans are in housing, and there's still room for more to sign up for the program. HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan testified to Congress in 2010 that a total of 60,000 vouchers are needed to eliminate veterans' homelessness. The program is growing to reach this goal, but at a slower pace than the 2008-2010 period.
While the program itself preceded his administration, President Obama nonetheless supported it, and approximately 17,000 new vouchers have been added during his presidency. This qualifies as expanding the program. As a result we rate Obama's pledge a Promise Kept.
Veteran Homelessness: A Supplemental Report to the 2009 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, press release, February 10, 2011.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: The Department of Housing and Urban Development and VA's Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD-VASH Vouchers: Overview.
Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness-- 2010.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, press release, June 22, 2010.
The American Legion, "HUD-VASH vouchers survive budget cut,” April 13, 2011.
Interview with American Legion representative.
United States Interagency Council on Homelessness: Historic Funding Levels for Homelessness Programs in President's FY12 Budget.
E-mail statement from Susan Angell, Executive Director of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affair"s Veterans Homeless Initiative.
United States Interagency Council on Homelessness: Impact of Supported Housing on Clinical Outcomes.
Testimony of Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan to the U.S. Senate, Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies; and Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, May 20, 2010.
VA secretary announces plans for more housing vouchers at Homeless Veterans Summit
On July 30, 2009, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., introduced the "Zero Tolerance for Veterans Homelessness Act of 2009." The bill would authorize a major increase in the number of vouchers available annually for homeless veterans through the VA Supported Housing Program. Specifically, the bill would increase the number of vouchers available to 30,000 in 2010, and then 10,000 more a year until 2014, when 60,000 vouchers would be available. The bill now sits in the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee.
On Nov. 3, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki convened the first-ever Homeless Veteran Summit in Washington, during which he unveiled an ambitious plan to establish new programs and enhance existing ones with the goal of ending homelessness among veterans over the next five years.
The first plank of the plan is a "major expansion of HUD-VASH permanent housing and related case management services." The HUD-VASH Program is a partnership in which the Department of Housing and Urban Development offers vouchers for permanent housing to homeless veterans, while the VA Supported Housing program provides case management and other supportive services.
This promise is firmly In the Works.
Library of Congress, S. 1547: Zero Tolerance for Veterans Homelessness Act of 2009
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Press release: Homeless Veteran Summit: Ending Homelessness Among Veterans within Five Years
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Press release: The Department of Housing and Urban Development and VA's Supported Housing (HUD-VASH) Program