Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), the Ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Financial Services, is raising serious objections to what she characterized as a “harmful” Senate proposal to expand the Moving to Work (MTW) Program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
In a letter addressed to leaders on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, Ranking Member Waters urged the removal of language in the fiscal year 2016 Senate Transportation and Housing and Urban Development bill (THUD) that would require a dramatic expansion of the controversial demonstration. Waters also pressed omitting language that would hamstring HUD’s ability to re-negotiate agreements with the current participating housing authorities. The letter comes as these members begin the process of reconciling the differences between the House and Senate versions of the spending bill.
A longstanding opponent of the MTW program, Waters outlined a number of serious concerns about the program itself, pointing out that, among others, MTW allows for questionable alternative policies that can effectively put tenants at great risk without any solid evidentiary proof of effectiveness. The demonstration program also serves fewer residents than non-participating housing agencies and currently lacks the ability to provide critical oversight of those housing authorities participating now.
The letter notes that the Senate proposal would expand this demonstration program three-fold and encompass nearly 40 percent of all public housing and Housing Choice Voucher units. Moreover, it would expose residents to rent increases and other changes that could have serious consequences for recipients. Waters stated that the Senate THUD proposal would also undermine more than a year’s worth of efforts by HUD to negotiate improvements to the current demonstration with existing MTW agencies.
“This vast expansion raises several concerns. Numerous studies have highlighted that the MTW demonstration program has serious shortcomings and is in need of reform, before any kind of expansion should be considered,” Waters wrote. “As Congress considers modification and possible expansion of this demonstration, it must include strong reforms and protections to address the many risks...”
The full text of the letter follows.
July 14, 2015
The Honorable Hal Rogers The Honorable Nita Lowey
Chairman Ranking Member
U.S. House of Representatives U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on Appropriations Committee on Appropriations
Washington D.C. 20515 Washington, DC 20515
The Honorable Thad Cochran The Honorable Barbara Mikulski
Chairman Ranking Member
U.S. Senate U.S. Senate
Committee on Appropriations Committee on Appropriations
Washington, DC 20510 Washington, DC 20510
Dear Chairman Rogers, Ranking Member Lowey, Chairman Cochran, and Ranking Member Mikulski:
As you prepare to conference the fiscal year (FY) 2016 House and Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies (THUD) appropriations bills, I urge you to omit harmful language currently included in the Senate THUD bill that would dramatically expand the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) controversial Moving to Work (MTW) demonstration program without adequate consideration given to serious concerns raised by Members of Congress, federal agencies, and affordable housing advocates. This language represents authorizing legislation that should be carefully considered through the regular order process in both the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.
The language included in the FY16 Senate THUD bill would require a dramatic expansion of the MTW program to 300 additional housing authorities, which is well beyond the 39 agencies that are currently authorized to participate in the demonstration. According to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), the proposed language would add up to 800,000 units to the MTW portfolio, which would expand the current demonstration program three-fold and encompass nearly 40 percent of all public housing and Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) units. 
This vast expansion raises several concerns. Numerous studies have highlighted that the MTW demonstration program has serious shortcomings and is in need of reform, before any kind of expansion should be considered. For example, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) as well as HUD’s Inspector General (IG) have raised concerns about HUD’s ability to adequately oversee the activities and outcomes of the current 39 participating agencies. Additionally, HUD’s own report on the MTW demonstration program admits that the effects of the demonstration are “difficult to generalize” and that “conclusive impacts of many MTW activities, particularly as they relate to residents, cannot yet be known.” Data also shows that several of the current MTW participants are serving substantially fewer families through the HCV program than they could with available funds, with non-MTW agencies using nearly 100 percent of their vouchers funded in 2013, while MTW agencies used only 86 percent.
Another issue of great concern is that the demonstration program allows participating agencies to impose rent increases, work requirements, time limits, and other policy changes that risk serious hardship for recipients. These alternative policies can result in greater cost burdens or evictions of tenants, and there is no corresponding requirement on PHAs to provide robust supportive services in conjunction with these policies or to conduct rigorous evaluations of the impacts on residents. These alternative policies effectively put tenants at great risk without any solid evidentiary proof of effectiveness.
Additionally, a vast expansion of the demonstration program would effectively move towards a conversion of the voucher and public housing programs into block grants. This will leave the programs more vulnerable to deep funding cuts over time, similar to the major cuts that we have seen with HUD’s major block grant programs in the past several years. Increased flexibility over use of federal dollars without appropriate measures to ensure accountability creates incredible difficulties in Congress and the Administration’s abilities to adequately oversee the program and to protect tenants.
Finally, the Senate THUD bill would also unilaterally extend the contracts for existing 39 MTW agencies without regard to several careful revisions to the program that HUD has been negotiating with MTW agencies for nearly a year. The Department has rightly identified several deficiencies in the current demonstration program after nearly 20 years of program oversight, and intends to use the opportunity contract extension provides to address a number of these shortcomings, including a requirement to tie an evaluation to any new alternative policy an MTW agency chooses to implement. While I still have several questions about whether all of my concerns are being addressed in the renegotiation efforts, I believe HUD is on the right track to addressing harmful aspects of the program. The current language in the Senate THUD bill would make it impossible for HUD to make any necessary improvements to the demonstration unless all MTW agencies agree to be bound by more stringent requirements.
As Congress considers modification and possible expansion of this demonstration, it must include strong reforms and protections to address the many risks outlined above. Much of the public discussion to date in the authorizing committees has focused on these various issues and how to address problems we know to be present in the demonstration program. Unfortunately, the proposed expansion in the Senate THUD bill neglects to address many of these important issues. For these reasons, I respectfully urge you to omit any language in a future appropriations bill that would expand the program, or stifle HUD’s ability to renegotiate the existing MTW agreements.
Thank you for your consideration.
Committee on Financial Services
cc: The Honorable Mario Diaz-Balart
The Honorable David Price
The Honorable Susan Collins
The Honorable Jack Reed