Veterans housing program targeted

Congress: Murray, Dicks trying to ward off cuts

March 11, 2011 

WASHINGTON, D.C. - At the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, top Senate Democrats raised loud objections to a House Republican plan that they said would eliminate 10,000 housing vouchers for homeless veterans this year, an effort to save $75 million from the 2011 federal budget.

Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, called the proposal “astounding” and said no federal budget should shortchange the most vulnerable Americans. She says she wants to eliminate homelessness among U.S. veterans and said the proposal is “just one more example of the Republicans’ reckless budget that puts politics and ideology over families, communities, and even those who have served and sacrificed for our nation.”

Republicans defended the plan by noting that thousands of vouchers have gone unclaimed this year.

IN THURSTON COUNTY

The Housing Authority of Thurston County has handed out 35 federal housing vouchers to homeless veterans in the past two years, and Karen McVea knows there are plenty more who need help.

“For every person we serve … there are multitudes of more people that could qualify for this program,” said McVea, the authority’s rental-assistance program manager.

The housing authority doesn’t have any vouchers but has expressed interest in additional vouchers because there is a need.

IN SOUTH SOUND

After being homeless with two teenage daughters, Mark Jameson moved into a three-bedroom apartment on Tacoma’s West End last June, relying on the federal government to pay nearly half of his $1,125 monthly rent.

At 55, the Vietnam-era veteran was divorced and disabled, needing oxygen to help him battle his emphysema. But after serving three years in the military as a deep-sea diver in the 1970s, he was happy to discover that he qualified for help under a relatively new federal program that provided housing vouchers to homeless veterans.

Now, with Congress contemplating cuts in the program, he’s worried about losing the vouchers.

“Honestly, I would be back on the streets with my two girls,” he said Thursday. “I couldn’t survive without them, with the economy and everything. I stress out.”

IN CONGRESS

As Congress tries to reach agreement on spending reductions before March 18 to avert a government shutdown, the program for homeless veterans is just one small example of the wide gulf that still exists between House and Senate leaders.

In the House, the battle to save the vouchers has been led by state Rep. Norm Dicks, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

During a debate on the House floor, Dicks called the proposal “frankly appalling.”

He cited a recent federal report that found that more than 76,000 veterans are homeless on any given night in the United States and that veterans are 50 percent more likely than others to be homeless.

“Yet the majority’s bill turns its back on our homeless vets, leaving them literally out in the cold,” Dicks said.

Republican Rep. Tom Latham of Iowa told Dicks that his statement was “absolutely untrue.”

“The fact of the matter is there will not be a veteran, a homeless vet, that will not get a voucher,” Latham said. “The fact of the matter is there are 30,000 vouchers available today. Only 19,000 of those have been used. There are 11,000 vouchers waiting.”

Murray said the remaining vouchers are being processed and will be used this year if Congress doesn’t cut the funding. She said “real people” would be hurt.

Each yearlong voucher is worth roughly $7,500, officials said. Last year, the program provided vouchers to 9,500 veterans across the country, including 345 in this state, which had one of the nation’s highest participation rates.

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