As many as 4,000 fewer low-income Kentucky families will receive rental assistance by the end of 2014 if Congress does not reverse or substantially mitigate the damage done by sequestration to the Housing Choice Voucher program, according to a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
Sequestration – the deep, across-the-board budget cuts that started this year and that are not slated to end until 2021 – reduced the Housing Voucher program’s funding by $938 million in 2013. Funding will remain at that level unless Congress changes its course.
This cut falls heavily on low-income Kentucky households that, after waiting for months or even years to receive rental assistance, now find themselves on frozen waiting lists. Most agencies would rather prevent new people from joining the program than the alternative: decreasing payments to those already receiving vouchers. Cutting vouchers can mean negotiating with landlords to decrease rent or, more commonly, shifting the costs onto families who must then either spend more to remain where they are or move to lower-cost housing.
CBPP estimates that anywhere from 2,174 to 4,054 fewer Kentucky households will have vouchers by of the end of 2014. The range assumes that agencies may choose to sustain pre-sequestration levels of service to some extent by spending down reserves. Whether agencies choose to spend aggressively to keep up enrollment levels, or spend more cautiously due to concern that funding will not be restored soon, will determine how many fewer families are served in Kentucky.
If agencies continue to serve the same number of people as before sequestration for as long as they can, CBPP estimates that by mid-2014, 1,000 of the total 2,300 state and local agencies providing vouchers nationwide will have used up their reserve funds.
The Housing Choice Voucher program served 31,294 households in Kentucky as of December 2012. A case-load reduction of 4,054 would represent a 13 percent drop in assistance in the state. Working parents and elderly and disabled Kentuckians will have less access to housing assistance while also dealing with sequester cuts to supplemental nutrition assistance for Woman, Infants and Children (WIC), Title 1 education grants to disadvantaged schools, child-care subsidies, home energy assistance and more.
Congress should make it a priority in the coming budget debates to restore funding to the Housing Choice Voucher program, as well as restore cuts to other programs that help lift millions of Americans out of poverty while aiding the economic recovery.