Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Committee on Financial Services, spoke on the House floor today about the state of homelessness in the United States and how the Republican poverty plan does nothing to address this crisis.
In her remarks, Ranking Member Waters noted that the recently introduced Republican poverty agenda, “would only exacerbate homelessness and punish the poor.” To that end, Waters urged support for her bill H.R. 4888, the Ending Homelessness Act of 2016 a proposal that would, “devote over $13 billion dollars over five years to housing assistance programs and create the housing units and services that we so desperately need to get people off of the streets.”
The full text, as prepared for delivery, is as follows:
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I rise today to discuss the harsh realities of homelessness in America, and to call attention to Republicans’ so called ‘poverty agenda’. Homelessness is one of the most tragic and disappointing reminders of the overwhelming poverty in this country. According to the latest estimates, almost 600,000 Americans are homeless. It’s a problem in virtually every district, and it affects people from very different walks of life. 37 percent of the homeless population are represented in families. 15 percent are chronically homeless. 8 percent are veterans. And 6.5 percent are children.
While some progress has been made to decrease homelessness in some communities, much more needs to be done, especially in some of our larger cities where homelessness is, sadly, increasing exponentially. In my hometown of Los Angeles, homelessness increased 20 percent between 2014 and 2015. In New York City, homelessness increased 11 percent between 2014 and 2015. And in Chicago, there was an 8 percent increase in that time frame.
As public policy makers and Members of Congress we have a responsibility to deal with problems and circumstances that undermine and harm our way of life. We are people who cherish religion and in every religion there is a reference to feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and clothing the naked. Where are the Republican Members who regularly hold prayer meetings, who attend church on Sunday in their districts, but yet they are supporting this fake poverty agenda that does not even mention homelessness? Where are the Members who claim to honor our veterans, yet walk past them on the sidewalk in their tents and sleeping under our bridges? We know how to functionally end homelessness and alleviate poverty in this country. We know that federal resources and the social safety net are incredibly effective at lifting up struggling families. We know that if we properly support the Department of Housing and Urban Development and other federal agencies, that we could create the necessary housing units and provide the social services that our neighbors need to get off the streets.
What we need is the political will to get it done. Unfortunately, we do not have this support from Republicans, whose sham of a poverty agenda released this week would only exacerbate homelessness and punish the poor.
Take the Republican approach to housing assistance, for example. For years they have cut funding for HUD programs, leaving more than 75 percent of eligible families without any housing help at all. And their latest poverty plan recycles some of the most harmful changes Republicans have sought for our housing programs. They refuse to acknowledge the realities of unaffordable rents that require families to earn almost triple the minimum wage to be able to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. And they want to impose so-called “work requirements” that simply don’t work if you ignore the already high unemployment rates in certain areas as well as the need to invest in job training, education, child care, and other social services to make it possible for individuals to obtain and maintain stable employment. What the Republicans have put forward is truly the Wrong Way forward.
Fortunately, Democrats know what it takes. And when we talk about issues of homelessness in particular, there is a very simple solution to this very real problem. That’s why I’ve introduced H.R. 4888, the Ending Homelessness Act of 2016. This bill would devote over $13 billion dollars over five years to housing assistance programs and create the housing units and services that we so desperately need to get people off of the streets.
So, while others will point to this bill and talk about the cost, the fact of the matter is that this is the richest country in the world, and we spend money on so many other things that are not as important as taking care of our most vulnerable populations. We can’t think that it is going to go away simply because we don’t want to acknowledge it. We’ve got to pay for the possibility of ending homelessness.