After Attacking Nutrition and Health Care, Administration Now Targeting Federal Housing Programs with Harmful Provisions

By Renato Rocha

In the months following the passage of Republicans’ tax giveaway for corporations and wealthy individuals, the Trump Administration and conservative members of Congress are attempting to pay for their massive $1.5 trillion tax bill by cutting enrollment from key federal assistance programs that help low-income people meet basic needs.

First, the administration said it would allow states to require work-related activities as a condition of Medicaid eligibility, putting at risk access to health care for millions of beneficiaries. 

Next, President Trump issued an executive order on “welfare reform” that encourages government agencies to institute work requirements and create other obstacles for people seeking to support themselves and their families through low-wage work.

Then Republicans passed legislation out of the House Agriculture Committee that would impose harsher work requirements on those who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), threatening to kick millions of people off of food assistance. 

And now what’s next after attacking the health and food security of people living in low-income households? This week, the Trump Administration proposed a bill that would impose work requirements, raise rent, and otherwise burden people receiving federal housing assistance through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The Administration’s proposal includes elements of similarly harmful draft legislation, which was discussed in yesterday’s House Financial Services Committee hearing.

Currently, HUD helps 4.7 million families put a roof over their heads, and more than one-third of these households include children. This bill would allow public housing agencies or property owners, in the case of project-based assistance, to broadly impose work requirements, without providing any resources to help people secure and maintain quality jobs. Further, the proposal would increase rent, targeting people in the poorest households who are already at significant risk of homelessness.

Aside from participants in a small number of housing agencies, most federal housing beneficiaries have not had their rental assistance conditioned on working or participating in education or training activities. For those agencies that already impose work requirements, policies vary with some allowing work-related activities, such as training and education, and others requiring wage employment. Work requirements also vary by hours of work required, ranging from 15 to 37.5 hours a week. However, based on decades of experience with work requirements in other safety net programs, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and SNAP, the practical effect of work requirements across programs is to discourage enrollment.

The paperwork needed to comply with work requirements creates a complex system of reporting and documentation, regardless of whether the housing assistance beneficiary is exempt, working, or looking for work. Many people would lose housing assistance because of this burdensome paperwork and fluctuations in hours of work, and relatively few for not meeting the requirement to work. Moreover, work requirements are not needed because nearly 90 percent of households participating in federal housing assistance are working, have recently worked, are already subject to work requirements through another program, or are elderly or a person with disabilities. Simply put, work requirements do not reflect the realities of participants of federal housing assistance and would only create more unstable housing for people in low-income households.

Congress should oppose the imposition or expansion of work requirements and other harmful provisions in federal support programs, including those that provide access to health care, put food on the table, and make housing affordable. Instead, Congress should create jobs and boost wages by supporting such policies as lifting the minimum wage, ensuring workers have access to inclusive paid sick days, and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for workers without dependents.