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Trump Budget Would Slash Rent Aid for Struggling Seniors, Families, Others

In his 2020 budget, President Trump proposes again to radically reduce the federal role in helping low-income seniors, families with children, and others to pay rent and make ends meet.

The budget requests $44.1 billion for Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs in 2020 — $9.7 billion (18 percent) less than the 2019 funding levels that the President signed into law just over a month ago, not counting the impact of inflation. The proposed HUD budget reflects disturbing themes that are found in the President’s requests for other agencies as well, hitting various programs that provide critical aid to vulnerable seniors, people with disabilities, and families with children. For example, the proposed HUD budget would:

  • Eliminate funding for 140,000 housing vouchers that low-income households are using to afford decent homes. The budget requests $20.1 billion to renew vouchers that families are currently using. That’s $206 million less than policymakers provided for 2019, and $1.3 billion (6 percent) less than the $21.4 billion that will likely be required to renew all vouchers in 2020 due to rent inflation and other factors, according to our preliminary estimates. The cuts would hit extremely low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and working families with children hard, and they would undermine communities’ efforts to reduce homelessness.
  • Slash public housing by $4.6 billion (more than 60 percent) compared to 2019. Public housing — a federal responsibility since the program was created in 1937 — faces more than $26 billion in repair needs such as fixing leaky roofs or replacing outdated heating systems and electrical wiring. Instead of directly addressing this challenge, the President proposes to expand the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD), which lets housing agencies convert their traditional public housing funding streams to a rental assistance contract platform that they can leverage more easily to obtain private financing to help rehabilitate developments. A RAD expansion is worth considering, but it’s entirely unworkable when combined with deep cuts in public housing funding that provides the initial resources needed for the new rental assistance contracts created under RAD. Thus, the RAD expansion proposal is no more than a fig leaf to cover policies that would jeopardize the health and safety of public housing’s 2.2 million residents — a most of whom are elderly or have disabilities — and generate the loss of hundreds of thousands of affordable homes in coming years.
  • Eliminate the HOME Investment Partnerships, Community Development Block Grant, Choice Neighborhoods programs, and National Housing Trust Fund, which provide flexible aid to low-income rural and urban communities. In total, communities would lose more than $4.9 billion a year to improve basic infrastructure like streets and water and sewer lines, provide life-enriching services to youth and seniors, build and rehabilitate affordable housing for low-income residents, and promote economic development.
  • Re-propose policies that would sharply raise the rents of more than 4 million households that receive HUD rental assistance. While budget documents that the Administration has provided to date do not include a detailed proposal, the budget text indicates that the Administration intends to re-introduce harmful legislation that it proposed last year. That proposal would have raised rents on more than 4 million households by an average of 44 percent, shifting $3.2 billion in housing costs from HUD to vulnerable seniors, people with disabilities, and working families with children. The poorest households, which contain nearly a million children, would be hit hardest, placing many at risk of becoming homeless. The budget also proposes to end assistance for non-elderly, non-disabled households that don’t meet rigid work requirements, an idea that research indicates would do little to improve families’ earning and employment, but instead, would push some families into hardship and homelessness.

These devastating cuts and policy changes would come at a time when the number and share of low-income households facing severe challenges, after growing for more than a decade, remain at historic highs — driven in part by the failure of federal aid programs to keep pace with the problem. Since 2001, the number of renter households with what HUD calls “worst-case housing needs” — meaning renters with very low incomes who pay more than half of their income for rent or live in severely substandard housing — has risen 66 percent, while the number receiving rental aid has grown only marginally.