As we head closer to the sequester people are trying to figure out how the automatic budget cuts will effect everything from health care to airport flight delays. While some cuts may be more annoying than others, some are sure to be life threatening. Last Friday Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) across the country received an email from Sandra Henriquez, Assistant Secretary of the Office of Public and Indian Housing, a division of HUD. The letter attached warned PHAs to expect a 6% cut to their Section 8 program for the remainder of 2013.
6% percent may not seem like a lot but let’s break down the numbers and their impact on low-income families in Dane County communities outside of the City of Madison. If you are not familiar with the program, The Housing Choice Voucher program (often refereed to as Section 8) allows families whose income falls below HUD published limits to apply at their local PHA for a voucher. This voucher allows them to select the housing of their choice and pay 30% of their income in rent, a level that the federal government has determined to be affordable. The balance of the rent, up to HUD’s publisher Fair Market Rent, is then paid to the landlord by the PHA in the form of a Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). If the Sequestration cuts take effect starting April 1 HAP payments to PHAs will be cut by 6%.
For the Dane County Housing authority this means a $36,120 reduction in HAP payments every month. With the average HAP payment being about $600, this cut means that 60 families will lose their rent assistance. That’s 60 families that are now homeless, 60 vacant housing units not collecting rent and 60 requests to local shelters for emergency assistance. When family members become homeless they are less likely to be able to keep a job or find a new job. Children are less likely to attend school and if they do, perform at a lower level that their peers. When people become homeless they are more likely to face substance abuse issues, mental health problems and incarceration. All of these costs far exceeding the $600 per month rent subsidy that was lost because we couldn’t agree on how to fix the budget.
So will the sequester lower your taxes? Will it lower the unemployment rate or the crime rate? Will it improve the economy? Or is it more likely that the across the board spending cuts will increase homelessness, increase unemployment, increase crime, push us back into recession and pass the cost from the federal government down to the local, county and state level? 60 new homeless families in Dane county is scary but remember I am only talking about the communities outside of Madison. When you add in the cuts to the city and the other 71 counties in Wisconsin we are facing a homelessness crisis starting April 1, 2013. And for what? What did we gain? It is time for our representatives in the federal government to fix more problems that they create.