Carson Testifies at Senate Committee Hearing on HUD’s FY 2019 Budget

On April 18, HUD Secretary Ben Carson testified at a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD) hearing and responded to questions regarding the agency’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 Budget, recent legislative proposals, the President’s recent Executive Order on work requirements, and concerns about fair housing enforcement at HUD. In testimony nearly identical to what he shared during the House THUD hearing in March, Carson defended HUD’s FY 2019 Budget, including its rent reform proposals, and encouraged self-sufficiency for low-income households. Carson also spoke about the importance of investing in Federal Housing Administration (FHA) information technology and added that it would be "wonderful" to have an FHA Commissioner. President Trump nominated Brian Montgomery for the post in September 2017, but the Senate has yet to consider the nomination, despite the Banking Committee’s favorable vote earlier this year in support of it.

In her opening remarks, Subcommittee Chairwoman Susan Collins (R-ME) criticized the HUD budget, calling it a "divestment, and in some cases, abdication, of the federal role in affordable housing and community development" and saying it fails to identify how states and local governments would be able to make up for losses to programs like the HOME Investment Partnerships (HOME) program and Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), both of which the FY 2019 Budget proposes to eliminate.

Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-VT) called HUD’s FY 2019 Budget "tone deaf" for eliminating and cutting popular programs that Congress provided significant increases for in the FY 2018 omnibus tax and spending bill. Leahy asked Carson whether he or anyone at HUD had discussed possible rescissions with the White House as it crafts a proposal to cut funding enacted in the omnibus bill. Carson appeared to say he has not discussed such rescissions to date but may in the future. THUD Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI) raised similar concerns, including HUD’s now-cancelled questionable order for a $31,000 dining room set for the Secretary’s office. Reed also supported HUD’s request for increased lead-based paint hazard abatement funding.

Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) asked Carson for his reaction to the Family Self-Sufficiency Act that he and Reed introduced to combine HUD’s Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) programs currently operating separately for Housing Choice Vouchers and public housing, expand FSS eligibility to include families in privately owned HUD-assisted housing, and provide additional educational services to FSS program participants. Carson signaled his support for these amendments.

Carson told Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) that HUD’s first EnVision Center would open in Detroit very soon and that two other locations are already expected to follow. In response to a question from Daines, Carson added that HUD has had no difficulty in engaging private entities in supporting the EnVision Center model.

Daines also asked Carson to speak more about what actions HUD is taking to respond to the President’s Executive Order on Reducing Poverty by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility. Carson said that housing programs have too often been an impediment to economic mobility because the agency "pulls support when families try to climb the ladder" and that HUD was working to ameliorate this issue.

Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) asked Carson about HUD’s decision to halt a fair housing investigation into Facebook, citing a New York Times article on the allegations. Carson explained that he had given permission to halt the investigation to provide more time to study the allegations, but that HUD has re-opened the investigation. Schatz also told Carson that he would be willing to look at ways HUD programs discouraged family formation, but said he wanted robust data that analyzed the need for such changes.

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