Good morning, Mr. Chairman. Welcome to our witnesses.
We have an extensive legislative agenda before us today – 20 bills in total, one of which I introduced last week along with Chairman Akaka, Senator Durbin, and Senator Burris – S.3377.
This legislation would improve the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Multifamily Transitional Housing Loan program and direct the use of $48 million in previously appropriated money going forward.
The original loan program, established in 1998, was intended to encourage development of transitional housing coupled with supportive services.
However, it was considered too rigid by community providers, who wanted greater flexibility in the loan terms and greater freedom to provide other living options – such as permanent housing – within the project being financed.
Only one loan was actually made --- to Catholic Charities, who operates the St. Leo Campus for Veterans in Chicago, Illinois.
S. 3377 is based, in part, on St. Leo’s experience in meeting its operational and resource challenges.
Specifically, my bill gives VA the authority to issue loans directly to community providers. The advantage of direct loans is the greater flexibility VA will have in customizing loans to meet providers’ unique needs.
Mr. Chairman, last fall you and I agreed to work together to find a constructive use for the original $48 million that was appropriated for the homeless loan program twelve years ago. I was told then by the Congressional Budget Office that amending the original program was the only way to do it.
I look forward to working with you, Senator Burris, and other Committee Members as we move forward.
I’m going to spend the remainder of my statement, Mr. Chairman, talking about a problem that we seem to be discussing at every hearing...namely, this Administration’s apparent lack of responsiveness for the Committee’s oversight and legislative responsibilities.
First, a quick compliment. The Administration’s testimony for this hearing was on time. I’m hoping it is the beginning of a new trend.
With that said, the testimony only has views on 9 of the 20 bills on today’s agenda, with a promise to provide views on the others at a later time. Although I understand it’s tough to clear views on bills introduced within the last week, I’m skeptical we’ll get them anytime soon. Here’s why:
Last October we had a hearing, like today’s, on pending legislation. On the agenda was a bill proposing comprehensive improvements to end veterans’ homelessness. We didn’t get views on that bill until March.
I continue…last month the Chairman and I sent a letter to Secretary Shinseki reminding him that we had yet to receive responses to 216 of the 347 questions submitted following the Committee’s February budget hearing.
After VA’s weekly updates that responses to our questions were imminent…and the latest communication was to expect answers by last Friday, May 14…still, nothing. Rather, we received a letter from Secretary Shinseki stating that the questions are “under review” by the Office of Management and Budget.
We were also promised responses last Friday to questions submitted by Committee members after hearings on October 8, October 21, November 11, March 3, and March 24…still, nothing in from the Administration.
Mr. Chairman, in a week or so, the Senate is expected to consider supplemental appropriations legislation that includes very important funding for our troops and veterans. I submitted several questions relevant to this legislation. Despite the urgent need for us to act quickly, the Administration still has not responded.
There are many other unanswered budget questions that bear directly on policy that is the subject of several of the agenda items today. Yet we have nothing.
We still have no 5-year plan from the Administration to end homelessness; no idea what legislative authorities VA thinks it needs to accomplish that goal; and no idea how VA’s budget request for next year and the advance year of 2012 fits within the overall plan.
Mr. Chairman, we are completely adrift here. This Committee cannot conduct its oversight and legislative functions without full cooperation from the Administration. We’re talking about programs to improve the lives of veterans.
Clearly, voicing our concerns over these issues hasn’t worked…I’m committed to working with you, Mr. Chairman, in finding a solution because we simply cannot do our jobs adequately without the VA’s full cooperation
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.