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Housing Secretary Promises Senator Murray that King County will Receive Funding Fix

Apr 14 2005

Senator presses for a commitment from HUD to protect housing options for 5,000 of King County’s most vulnerable residents

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(WASHINGTON, D.C.) –U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) today pressed Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson to restore King County Public Housing Authority funds that were improperly cut due to an error on the part of HUD. Murray raised the issue with Jackson at a hearing before the Transportation, Treasury, the Judiciary, and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations subcommittee, of which she is the highest ranking Democrat.



Nearly $800,000 in critical Section 8 funding has been denied to King County as a result of computer errors made by HUD. This loss of funds threatens to deny housing vouchers to nearly five thousand deserving seniors, disabled, single parents and refugees in the Seattle area.



Murray, who has been in recent contact with the King County Housing Authority, questioned Jackson about his familiarity with the issue and received a commitment from Jackson that he would follow up on the error with the County and report back with a status update.



Partial Transcript: (full transcript)

Secretary Jackson: We are resolving that situation and should be resolved immediately with the King County Housing Authority.



Senator Murray: And will we be getting a phone call today regarding that?



Secretary Jackson Yes, I can’t say today, but Assistant Secretary Liu has been in contact with the Executive Director there.



Senator Murray: Well as of last night they had not heard anything. Can we have someone call us today?



Secretary Jackson: I surely will if they have not.



Murray has been a strong advocate for affordable housing throughout her time in the Senate. Last June she hosted a roundtable discussion to hear from about 50 members of Washington's affordable housing communities as they deal with controversial changes the Bush Administration has made to federal housing programs such as Section 8.



“It is simply unacceptable that families in King County could be denied housing because of an error on the part of HUD,” Murray said today. “At a time when residents across the country are struggling to get back on their feet, HUD needs to tear down hurdles to help the most vulnerable, not construct new ones.”



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Murray’s opening statement from today’s HUD budget hearing, as well as a complete transcript of her questioning of Secretary Jackson, follows:



Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to welcome Secretary Jackson to the Subcommittee this morning.



Mr. Secretary – you have had a distinguished career serving in the public housing field in Dallas, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C. Your expertise and your commitment are needed as families throughout the country struggle with the high cost of housing.



Unfortunately, Mr. Secretary, you've been handed a very difficult budget to defend. I've always said that a budget is a statement of priorities, and looking at this budget it's hard to reach any other conclusion than that housing is not a priority for this Administration. And we're not just talking about numbers. The cuts and problems in this budget will affect the lives of some of our most vulnerable neighbors.



I wish the Bush Administration valued them more – and was willing to give us a budget that makes housing a priority. But sadly that is not the case, so we will do our best with the budget the Administration has sent us.



But I do want to note that the situation is actually worse than some of the figures we'll hear today. In looking at the budget before us, some might see a 12 percent cut from last year. But when you take a closer look at the numbers – you see that the cuts are actually closer to 20 percent. That's because this budget calls for large number of rescissions -- $2.65 billion.



I know that last year – before HUD came under the jurisdiction of this subcommittee – the Administration sought approval to cut about one billion dollars that were appropriated but never spent.



Now the Administration wants to go into the current year's budget and cut an additional $2.65 billion. So when you add in these rescissions -- on top of the regular budget cuts -- the size of the Administration’s proposed cuts to HUD grows to almost $6.5 billion, or a 20 percent cut from last year. That is a very dark picture for American families and for cities and communities that are trying to develop distressed areas.



As I look at these rescissions, what I see is troubling – but what I don't see is even more troubling. I don’t see a detailed explanation specifying where 2.5 billion of the proposed rescission is coming from. It's like the administration is asking us for a sledgehammer and then telling us not to worry about how they'll use it. Well I am worried.



Under these proposed rescissions, HUD is granted the blanket authority to take the funding from any program in the agency. That means additional cuts can come from programs serving the homeless, the disabled, or individuals living with HIV/AIDS. They can eliminate housing vouchers for the working poor or cut back on locally-based meals-on-wheels programs. All that is in addition to the Administration’s proposal to eliminate the Community Development Block Grant program and the variety of support programs and services it funds.



So the Administration is saying not only are we going to cut funding for HUD Programs, but we're asking to open up a previous appropriations act and cut another $2.5 billion however we see fit. That could have a painful impact on many of our neighbors.



The only part of the rescission that the Administration has provided any information about concerns the HOPE-VI program – so let's take a look at what the Administration proposes. The HOPE-VI program has the worthy goal of tearing down old, dilapidated public housing units and replacing them with affordable housing units for mixed income populations. The President plans to eliminate this program next year.



But it gets worse. The Administration also wants us to go back and rescind the $143 million that we already appropriated for this program for the current year. So it's not enough to kill it next year – they want to gut it this year and undo Congress's work in this area.



Together, these proposals represent the elimination of some $300 million in HOPE-VI grants. This idea of unaccountable, undefined blanket rescissions concerns me deeply.



I have served on the Appropriations Committee for the great majority of my almost thirteen years in the Senate. I believe we have responsibility when we appropriate taxpayer dollars to know where they are going. By the same measure, when we are asked to take funds away from agencies that have already received them, I want to know precisely what projects, grants or services – that we already funded – will now be cut.



So, I hope to use a portion of our hearing this morning to get clear and precise answers from Secretary Jackson as to the likely impacts of this budget proposal and what will result if he is required to cancel more than $4 billion in funding already appropriated to his agency over the course of this year and next.



The challenges facing the Department of Housing and Urban Development are daunting. And the Administration's proposed budget cuts make it even worse. I can't make the Administration treat housing like a priority, but I can do everything possible to make sure we don't make things worse.



I want to give the Secretary the resources he needs to protect and expand housing opportunities for the poor and community development programs for local communities.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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Unofficial Transcript by Senator Murray's Office

Senator Patty Murray: I recently heard from the King County Public Housing Authority. It's one of the largest public housing authorities in my state. They tell me that as a result of a computing error that was executed by HUD in the distribution of Section 8 funds they are enduring a loss of $800,000 this year. I am told that HUD staff admitted to them that this was done in error, but HUD is also telling them they now don't have the money to rectify their error. As a result, this agency is contemplating sending out a letter to all the families on their waiting list explaining that as a result of those losses they are going to be terminating that waiting list since no families on that waiting list will have any hope of getting a housing voucher at any time in the future. There are currently 5,000 seniors, disabled people, single parents and refugees who are on that waiting list and about to get that notice because of an error made by HUD. Are you familiar with this situation?



Secretary Alphonso Jackson: Yes



Senator Murray: Well I would appreciate your response then today on what…



Secretary Jackson: We are resolving that situation and should be resolved immediately with the King County Housing Authority.



Senator Murray: And will we be getting a phone call today regarding that?



Secretary Jackson: Yes, I can’t say today, but Assistant Secretary Liu has been in contact with the Executive Director there.



Senator Murray: Well as of last night they had not heard anything. Can we have someone call us today?



Secretary Jackson: I surely will if they have not.



Senator Murray: and let us know when that phone call is going to be made and how that will be rectified.



Secretary Jackson: I sure will Senator.



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