Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing on HUD's proposed budget for FY2003. I want to thank Secretary Martinez for joining us here today to outline the agency's goals for FY2003 and beyond. I also welcome the other witnesses who will be joining us, and thank them as well for their testimony.
Mr. Chairman, now, more than ever before, we need a strong federal commitment to increasing affordable housing for all Americans, most specifically for low-income families and those who have recently lost their jobs.
The Administration's proposal has some good elements about it. One of them is the creation of 34,000 new housing vouchers. I also think that the proposal to end chronic homelessness over ten years and the goal to provide physical improvements to our existing public housing units are good measures.
Overall however, this budget falls short of meeting what I believe is HUD's core mission - fulfilling both the short and long-term housing needs that America's families, our communities and frankly, our economy, rely on.
While it is praise worthy that the administration seeks to end homelessness, their budget proposal actually contains little new money for homeless programs - it merely consolidates existing programs.
Furthermore, the administration espouses the need to physically improve public housing; its budget actually cuts $441 million from the Public Housing Capital Fund, the program which funds public housing repairs and rehabilitation.
And Mr. Chairman, once again this administration does not appear to be committed to reducing crime and drug-related activities that plague public housing developments. I consider zeroing-out the Public Housing Drug Elimination Program, a program aimed at improving the safety at public housing developments, particularly troublesome. Now, more than ever, our communities need more resources to maintain security, not less.
Mr. Chairman, as you are aware, Congress is reauthorizing Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), our nation's welfare program this year. The President's housing budget is completely silent on the specific housing needs that face welfare recipients. Only 30 percent of TANF families receive housing subsidies, however, modest housing costs more than 100 percent of TANF benefits in 47 states, including New Jersey. A key initiative of the President's budget is helping individuals achieve self-sufficiency. Yet, the President has not allocated any resources for new welfare-to-work vouchers or any additional funding for the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program.
Mr. Chairman, this budget has very negative implications for New Jersey, which has the third highest housing costs in the country. This proposal does little to impact the dilemma faced by individuals who reside in high-cost states, like New Jersey, who still face skyrocketing housing cost -even during the midst of a recession.
And this proposal completely eliminates grant funding for Round II Empowerment Zones, a program that has contributed mightily to the economic development of Cumberland County, New Jersey.
Secretary Martinez, I hope that we can use this opportunity to discuss these concerns and that we can gain a better understanding of HUD's, and your, commitment to improving access to decent, affordable housing for all American families.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.