The large domestic spending bills Democrats are trying to come to terms on encompass fundamental changes to America’s social safety net and approach to problem-solving on big questions of climate, education, infrastructure and more. It’s only natural that these complicated questions have been difficult to reach consensus on.
What is not a major shift, and in fact should be a rather straightforward matter, is the question of fully funding the Housing Choice Voucher program, better known as Section 8. While the Department of Housing and Urban Development is rightly studying alternatives including direct cash rental assistance, Section 8 has a decades-long track record of helping millions of people across the country to afford their homes. More than 100,000 low-income households currently use the vouchers in New York City alone, many of them elderly, disabled, or with children. Section 8 is a godsend in a city like ours, with its sky-high costs of living.
Unlike entitlements like Social Security and Medicaid, vouchers for eligible people are not guaranteed. In fact, funding constraints have made it so only about a quarter of those who qualify actually receive them. The current framework of the reconciliation bill doesn’t go as far as establishing Section 8 as a new entitlement, but merely allocates $90 billion for rental assistance including vouchers.
Funding rental assistance for families who already qualify is not a pie-in-the-sky ask; it’s simply making good on a principle already written into federal law. Congress should step up, as should the city and state in funding the local Family Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement (FHEPS), a last line of defense for families of children receiving cash assistance who are at risk of eviction or have already lost their homes.
Decades of research and direct experience have shown us that housing is the bedrock upon which all economic security and prosperity is built: homeless children have a harder time excelling in school, homeless adults are less able to hold down jobs, and so on. Vouchers work, and they should be a priority.
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