WASHINGTON – Housing advocates said more than 5,000 Maryland families could lose rental assistance under cuts proposed in the fiscal 2005 federal budget, a claim that one government official quickly attacked as “made up.”
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said Wednesday that President Bush’s fiscal 2005 budget request would cut $1.6 billion from the Section 8 housing voucher program. That program currently helps about 2 million low-income families pay the rent, with about 42,317 families in Maryland eligible for aid.
If the proposed cuts are spread across the housing agencies that currently hand out vouchers, their only options will be to cut the number of people receiving vouchers or force those people to pay a larger share of their rents, the report said.
In Maryland, that would mean a choice between dropping 5,129 families or increasing rents an average of $891 a year, it said.
“These cuts would do serious damage,” said Barbara Sard, director of housing policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “Vulnerable families in every community would be hurt.”
But government officials say it isn’t so.
“There’re not two sides to the issue . . . there is no issue in there,” said Sean Spicer, a spokesman for the House Budget Committee.
He said that while the committee has given approval to overall spending targets for fiscal 2005, it is too early to say the voucher programs will suffer a $1.6 billion hit because specific program funding levels have not been set.
“Their claim is just false, it’s fabricated and it doesn’t exist,” Spicer said. “Their claim does not exist.”
And officials with the Department of Housing and Urban Development argued that fewer dollars would not necessarily mean fewer services. HUD has proposed converting the voucher program into a block grant, which would let local housing agencies reduce voucher costs through efficiencies.
“HUD believes the time has come to simplify the basic features of the Section 8 program to give local communities the ability to address unique local needs and to help families improve their lives,” said Michael Liu, the assistant secretary for public and Indian housing.
In a prepared statement released Wednesday, Liu said the proposed reform returns decision-making to the local community and moves away from a one-size-fits-all approach dictated by Washington.
“It is about serving more families with the limited federal resource in ways that will benefit not only their short-term shelter needs, but also their entire lives,” his statement said.
But Sard accused the administration of wishful thinking with the numbers. She said the White House has “yet to state any facts that would demonstrate how agencies would be able to make savings . . . without closing homes to individual families.”
Sard said the administration has given talking points “to at least some Senate offices that deny that anyone will be evicted, based on their personal belief that this will not occur.”
“I think that the most important issue here is that the administration has been trying to say, ‘No one will be harmed, no one will be evicted,'” Sard said. But there is no denying that the cuts will harm those families, she said.
-30- CNS 03-17-04