Opening Statements of Committee Members

Opening Statement of Senator Paul S. Sarbanes (D-MD)

Hearing on HUD's Program, Budget and Management Priorities for FY-2002
Wednesday, April 25, 2001, 10:00 a.m - Dirksen 538

I want to start by saying how much I appreciate the effort made by Senator Reed to have this hearing scheduled as soon as possible, and I want to thank Senator Allard for his cooperation in this effort. I also welcome back Secretary Martinez and thank him for appearing.

The HUD budget has to be understood in the broader context of the overall housing needs in this country. A HUD study found that almost 5 million very low-income American households have worst case needs. This means 5 million families pay over half of their income in rent or live in severely substandard housing. A more comprehensive study shows that almost 14 million families, or 14% of all American households, actually have worst case needs. This number includes 10 million working, elderly, or disabled families.

In this era of great prosperity, when we in Congress are debating how to use a projected surplus of trillions of dollars, it is a national disgrace that this many families, including working families, are unable to afford decent and safe housing.

This is not an academic concern. These families live in constant fear of homelessness. They are often forced to move from one apartment to another, or to move in with a relative. These temporary arrangements undermine the ability of their children to get a good education, or their own efforts to get job training and take advantage of new opportunities. Affordable housing in a safe neighborhood is the first step we must take to help people achieve economic and social self-sufficiency.

Looking at the HUD budget through the eyes of these 14 million households makes it clear that the Administration's proposal is sorely inadequate. The proposal for FY 2002 cuts almost all the core HUD programs.

As we can see in the charts, public housing is down; the drug elimination program is terminated; new housing vouchers are down; disabled vouchers are eliminated altogether; the HOME formula grant is cut.

I want to spend a moment to discuss the 25% cut to the Public Housing Capital Fund. The Capital fund pays to modernize and make needed repairs to public housing.

HUD defends this cut by saying there are unexpended balances in the Capital Fund. However, HUD's own data show that Capital Funds are being spent well within the legal time frames established in the bipartisan public housing bill in 1998.

The government has an obligation to ensure that federally assisted housing is not left to deteriorate and fall into disrepair. This cut guarantees that some public housing residents will live in housing that is unfit. The impact of this cut will be real and direct and felt by residents of public housing.

For example, the housing authority in Washington County, Maryland has written me to say that, if the cut goes through, he will have to shelve plans to install heat pumps in elderly housing. Heat pumps would both save energy costs, and provide needed air conditioning relief to elderly housing residents who have respiratory problems.

I am also surprised by and strongly opposed to the proposed termination of the Public Housing Drug Elimination Program. This program provides needed funds for police and safety officers and activities for drug prevention such as after-school and mentoring programs. We have a number of police officers from Baltimore City here today, and I want to thank them and the other officers for coming to today's hearing to show their support for this program.

The budget states that the Drug Elimination program is unnecessary because it is duplicative. However, HUD's own webpage says that these funds support a number of critical programs that empower residents to turn the tide against drugs and drug-related crime in their own communities.

This cut would mean that housing authority police officers would be laid off, after-school centers shut down, and safety improvements left unmade.

Making public housing safe is indeed within the mission of HUD, and part of our obligation in providing housing to families in need.

There are other proposed cuts that concern me, cuts such as the termination of the Rural Housing and Economic Development program, the reduction of HOME formula grants by $200 million and the cut in new Section 8 vouchers and in reserves, which could lead to the reduction in the number of families receiving assistance.

I believe that we need to do more, and that we can do more. At a time when many people have prospered in the growing economy, too many have been left out of the boom. We have an obligation to make sure that they are not left out of the federal budget as well.