Congress gave final approval Thursday to a $1.3-billion, two-year program that outlines spending priorities for the homeless, with specific emphasis on job training, food and shelter programs and counseling efforts.
The bill extends existing programs for the homeless and reflects a bipartisan consensus on federal aid that was approved last year. The legislation, which the House approved Wednesday, was passed on a voice vote in the Senate and is expected to be signed into law by President Reagan.
Although the legislation does not break new ground, it became a key issue in the first presidential debate this year when Vice President George Bush declared that he supported “full funding” of the homeless bill, also known as the Stewart B. McKinney Act. McKinney, a deceased congressman from Connecticut, had been a strong champion of the homeless.
The measure approved Thursday authorizes $634 million for homeless programs, but legislation approved earlier appropriates only $378 million in fiscal 1989. The homeless legislation passed Thursday authorizes $656 million for fiscal 1990, but the actual amount Congress will spend has not yet been decided.
The largest single program funded by the bill is a two-year authorization of $263 million for emergency food and shelter assistance. Most of this program funds nonprofit charitable groups and local governments across the nation. The bill also provides funds to convert unused buildings into shelters and to rehabilitate boarding houses for use by the homeless.
Advocates have complained that Congress should be spending far more on the nation’s homeless, estimated to number anywhere between 500,000 and 3 million. In particular, they have urged the government to spend more money rehabilitating unused housing on military bases for the homeless. However, White House and congressional officials have said that they are prevented from doing so by the nation’s $150-billion budget deficit and the demands of other programs.
A new provision in this year’s homeless bill is a jobs training program developed by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) that targets long-term welfare recipients. Under the program, which provides bonus incentive payments to states, the federal government will reward job training agencies that are effective in placing long-term welfare clients in jobs.
Sponsors said that the bonuses would be paid from money the government otherwise would be spending on federal welfare assistance. Because it is unclear how many bonuses would be paid in any given year, they could not estimate what the new program would cost.
Kennedy, who said that the bonus payments would be modeled after an existing program in Massachusetts, noted that the Jobs for Employable Dependent Individuals Act could wind up saving the government money.