Tester, Hoeven, Udall, Isakson Fight to Curb Veteran Homelessness in Indian Country
Senators Reintroduce Tribal HUD-VASH Act
(U.S. Senate) - U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) today reintroduced bipartisan legislation to better serve homeless or at-risk Native American veterans.
The Senators' Tribal HUD-VASH Act will formally codify a joint tribal housing initiative between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) program, which provides rental and housing assistance to homeless and at-risk homeless veterans in Indian Country.
While Native American veterans serve in the military at a higher rate than any other ethnic demographic in the United States, Native American tribes and tribal housing authorities had been unable to access HUD-VASH funds prior to Congressional authorization of a Tribal HUD-VASH pilot in 2014.
"Every man and woman who served our nation has made huge sacrifices to keep us safe, and they deserve to have a warm and safe place to sleep at night," said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. "Our bipartisan bill builds on the success of this pilot program and expands it to every Native American veteran living in Indian Country."
"Native Americans serve in our nation's armed forces in higher numbers than any other ethnic group," said Hoeven. "This bipartisan legislation brings certainty to a critical housing program for Native American veterans, and will help ensure that Native veterans have access to safe, affordable homes."
"This bipartisan legislation will help ensure that Native veterans have greater access to the stable, affordable housing they deserve," said Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. "For generations, Tribal members in New Mexico and across Indian Country have proudly answered the call to duty, no matter the personal cost, earning not just our gratitude but also equal access to the veteran support services we promised them. But too often, Native veterans face homelessness when they return from service. This is unacceptable. We must pledge to serve Native veterans as well as they have served us. That starts with a place to call home. This bill is an important step in the right direction, and I'll continue to fight to improve access to critical services for Native veterans."
"We never want to see a veteran without a home," said Isakson, chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. "This bipartisan legislation will help ensure our Native American veterans, who have served our country honorably, have the housing and support services they need. I am proud to work with my colleagues in the Senate to once again introduce this legislation for our veterans."
HUD-VASH has supported homeless veterans since 2008 by combining HUD federal public housing program rental assistance with case management and clinical services provided by the VA. Tribes and tribally-designated housing entities, which do not participate in federal public housing programs, were unable to participate in the program until 2014. As of 2018, the Tribal HUD-VASH pilot program codified by this bill has served 25 Tribes and helped house more than 100 Native American veterans.
The Tribal HUD-VASH Act will authorize the program and ensure that at least five percent of all HUD-VASH vouchers are set aside for Native American tribes and tribal housing authorities to address Native American veteran homelessness. The bill will also ensure that HUD and the VA modify the initiative through tribal consultation to better guide available resources to homeless Native American veterans.
The bill also directs the Indian Health Service to provide any assistance requested by HUD or the VA to implement the initiative and directs HUD, the VA, and the Indian Health Service to conduct a review of the initiative every five years.
Advocates praised the Senators' bill.
"We're excited to see a bipartisan group re-introduce the Tribal HUD-VASH Act of 2019," said Gary Cooper, Chairman of the National American Indian Housing Council's Board of Directors. "This bill was very close to passing last Congress so we appreciate that members of Congress are acting quickly on the bill this year. If passed, the bill would provide certainty to Tribes assisting veterans in their communities, and allow more tribes to participate in the HUD-VASH program as more funds become available."
"Indian Country has a long-standing tradition of serving in the armed forces, and Native Americans serve at a higher rate than any other group," said Jefferson Keel, President of the National Congress of American Indians. "Our Native veterans face unique and disproportionate housing challenges when they return home. The Tribal HUD-VASH Act would provide greater certainty to our at-risk and homeless Native veterans that they will have access to this successful program."
Tester and Isakson are the Ranking Member and Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. Hoeven and Udall are the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
The Senators' bill can be read online HERE.