We Do Not Support Pseudo-Hearth Act--Drop S. 1518 until 2009
On October 2, the House passed the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act (HEARTH Act), which re-writes the portion of the McKinney-Vento Act that governs HUD's homeless assistance grant programs. The original HEARTH Act had the support of many homeless advocacy groups, and was introduced by the late Rep. Julia Carson of Indiana. However, the version of the bill just passed by the House is a compromise version of the legislation reached behind closed doors and passed with only 34 minutes of debate on the House floor. It is an almost unrecognizable version of the bill that was introduced, and we would like it dropped by the Senate. We would like the Senate and House to take up a new bill that has the support of a new administration early next year. Although there are many areas of improvement over the current McKinney-Vento legislation, such as key protections for homeless children and youth, NEOCH has several areas of concern. This legislation currently awaits action by the Senate in the form of S. 1518. We urge you to call Senator Sherrod Brown to encourage the Senate to hold this law until 2009. We do not support the current compromise legislation. Some of the biggest problems include:
The New Definition of Homelessness is Overly Complicated and Contains Some Arbitrary Timeframes and Provisions that Will Exclude Individuals and Families in Need: The bill expands the definition of homelessness and is an improvement over current law and practice. However, the new definition would be very complicated to administer at the local level, which might result in many families that need homeless assistance being found ineligible. It also arbitrarily excludes many persons and families in urgent need of assistance (ex. a family living in a motel but which has enough funds to stay at the motel for over 14 days), which limits flexibility for communities seeking to respond to the economic and foreclosure crisis with help to families becoming homeless. People at the local level should be given a larger role to determine eligibility for services based on need.
The Bill Places a Definition of Long Term Homeless into Law. The bill uses the offensive term “chronic homeless”, and while it expands the definition to include families we do not believe it is necessary. We should not segment the population and provide additional assistance to those based on the length of time they have spent homeless. Every homeless person needs help and our goal should be to end homelessness for everyone we come in contact.
The Bill Requires Every Group Receiving Federal Dollars to Submit Personal Data About Their Clients to a Central Database. The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless does not support forcing shelters to have to submit personal data about their clients to a central database. We do not support the unfunded mandate, because of the privacy concerns of homeless people. We also have seen this data used to inaccurately reflect the total number of homeless people in a city, and we fear that it will be used as the basis for distribution of the federal funding.
The Bill Must Balance Homelessness Prevention with Needed Services for People Who Are Already Homeless: The bill increases the flexibility with which communities can use funds from the re-named Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) program, which is a positive development. However, the bill does not set any minimum required amount for communities to spend on emergency shelters, meaning that communities could choose to eliminate emergency shelter in favor of spending all of their grant money on homelessness prevention. Although an end to homelessness is our ultimate goal, in reality there will be individuals and families who will need emergency shelter. Also, the bill sets aside a higher percentage of overall funds for the ESG program, which means less money for the main McKinney-Vento program to assist people who are already homeless. Therefore, the McKinney-Vento appropriations must be increased to ensure that we are sufficiently funding both homelessness prevention and services for people who are already homeless.
Mandatory Set-Asides Should be Removed: The House bill maintains the current requirement that 30% of funds to go to permanent housing for individuals with disabilities or families with a disabled head of household, and adds a 10% required set-aside for permanent housing for homeless families with children. Although the goals of these set-asides, to ensure permanent housing for individuals and families in need, are to be commended, this is the wrong approach because it severely limits communities’ flexibility in responding to homelessness. For example, it would inhibit the ability of a locality that funds transitional housing or innovative programs to be more cost effective than permanent housing or that already has permanent housing resources to use the funds in the way best suited for the particular community.
We Need You To: We ask that you call Senator Sherrod Brown’s office 202/224-2315 asking him to hold this bill until the 2009 Congress and the new Administration. For more specific information, contact NEOCH at (216) 432-0540. Please call us if you get any feedback from the Senator’s office. A full analysis of the bill and comparison to existing law can be found at the website of the National Policy and Advocacy Council on Homelessness. The full text of the bill passed by the House can be found with the highlighted link.
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.