Flexibility in Addressing Rural Homelessness Act (H.R. 7196)

U.S. House bill: H.R. 7196, introduced by Representatives Cindy Axne (D-IA-3) and Frank Lucas (R-OK-3) — Flexibility in Addressing Rural Homelessness Act (H.R. 7196)

Committees:

House Committee on Financial Services

Status:

The bill was approved without opposition by the House Financial Services Committee on May 17, 2022.

Impact

The Alliance supports this legislation which was essentially copied from a provision in a budget that was submitted by the Trump Administration.  It would not increase costs, thought that’s definitely not a bad thing.

It would give rural communities three new flexibilities with spending the annual federal homelessness funding that flows through the Transportation-HUD Appropriations Bill, particularly the Continuum of Care program dollars that make up the bulk of the Homelessness Assistance Grants.  

  1. Payment of short-term emergency lodging, including in motels or shelters, either directly or through vouchers

In many rural areas, the nearest homeless shelter is far away, far from kids’ schools, parents’ employers, and the friends and family who can help a household experiencing one of life’s setbacks.  So, sometimes, it makes sense to use homelessness funding to pay for folks experiencing homelessness to stay temporarily in commercial lodging, like a motel. 

      2. Repairs such as insulation, window repair, door repair, roof repair, and repairs that are                necessary to make premises habitable

Not every house in the countryside is rustic.  Sometimes, those houses are broken down, and no longer places families can call home.  In fact, rural housing stock tends to be older and more broken than in urban and suburban areas.  Rather than make a family look for another residence that they might not be able to afford or might not even exist in their community, it makes sense to sometimes spend homelessness funding to make a home habitable rather than leave that family homeless.

      3. Capacity building activities, including payment of staff training and staff retention

This is NOT bureaucracy-building.  Continuums of Care (CoCs), the regional bodies responsible for overseeing federal homelessness funding, are smaller and less well-resourced than urban and suburban CoCs.  Plus, owing to the remoteness of their locations, they are less likely to be in close proximity to other local homelessness systems.  That means they have a lot of ground to cover, both geographically and programmatically.  Sometimes, it’s too much.  It’s not easy to keep current, let alone innovate.  Rural CoCs are less able to take advantage of funding opportunities; in fact, more than a few rural CoCs are leaving money on the table because they don’t have the resources to court philanthropic groups or compete for available government grants.  So it makes sense to allow CoCs to build their capacities, keep their staff expert and up-to-date, and retain their very best staff.  Capacity-building is often the biggest need in rural areas.  This flexibility could not be used for funding HUD to pay for technical assistance.  It would be for funding to communities so they can consider the training and capacity-building they need.  This is one way to build rural America’s social services infrastructure.

That homelessness funding is insufficient to meet the needs of rural communities will ensure that these additional flexibilities are used responsibly.  No rural CoC is going to blow the budget on, say, home repairs when there is so much other work to be done.  This legislation would simply allow rural areas to spend precious homelessness funds on their most pressing needs, which are not always the same as urban and suburban areas. 

 

Summary

The bipartisan Flexibility in Addressing Rural Homelessness Act (H.R. 7196) would allow rural areas to spend precious homelessness funds on their most pressing needs, which are not always the same as urban and suburban areas.  The bill was approved without opposition by the House Financial Services Committee on May 17, 2022.   A Senate version is likely to be introduced later this year.  

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