Published February 7, 2019
WASHINGTON — Senators Jon Tester (D-MT), John Hoeven (R-ND), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Tom Udall (D-NM), Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, today announced that the Committee has approved S. 257, legislation to provide rental assistance for homeless or at-risk Indian veterans. The bill, which passed the Senate last Congress with the support of the Administration, would authorize a joint tribal housing initiative between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) program, among other things. Chairman Hoeven is an original cosponsor of the bill.
“Native Americans serve in the U.S. Armed Forces at a higher rate per-capita than any other ethnic group,” said Hoeven. “This legislation honors their sacrifice and helps ensure that our Native veterans have greater access to safe, affordable homes. I look forward to this legislation receiving swift action in the Senate and House and making its way to the President’s desk.”
“Every veteran who served this country should have a safe and warm place to call home,” said Tester. “Our bipartisan bill builds on the success of this pilot program and expands it to every Native American veteran living in Indian Country. I look forward to moving our bill forward on the Senate floor.”
“This bipartisan legislation will help ensure that Native veterans have greater access to the stable, affordable housing they deserve,” said Udall. “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. Today’s bipartisan vote in committee is an important step in the right direction, and I look forward to continuing the fight to improve access to critical services for Native veterans.”
“We never want to see a veteran without a home,” said Isakson. “I applaud the committee’s passage of this bipartisan legislation that will help ensure our Native American veterans, who have served our country honorably, have the housing and support services they need.”
· Ensures that Native homeless veterans receive crucial housing and health care services.
· Authorizes the tribal HUD-VASH program beyond a pilot program period.
· Institutes programmatic reforms that will fix technical issues identified by tribes, as well as HUD and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
· Ensures program accountability through Congressional reporting and oversight.
· Provides rental assistance and supportive services for homeless or at-risk Indian veterans.
· Improves the availability and cultural suitability of VA case management services for homeless or at-risk Indian veterans.
· Requires federal agencies to work cooperatively to better meet the needs of Indian veterans and tribal communities.
Background on Chairman Hoeven’s efforts to pass HUD-VASH
· On June 13, 2017 the Committee held a legislative hearing on a predecessor bill, S. 1333.
· The Director of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Native American Programs testified in favor of S. 1333.
· The Veteran’s Administration National Director of Clinical Operations – Homeless Program Office – provided testimony on the clinical implementation of the program to date.
· On December 19, 2017, the Secretary of HUD provided a “Views Letter” to the Chairman in support of S. 1333 as amended.
What Indian Country Is Saying
“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.”
S.257 was introduced in the Senate by Senator John Tester (D-MT) on January 29th, 2019. The bill will now go before the full Senate for consideration.