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HUD considering work requirements for federal housing assistance

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Leaked draft of new legislation would raise rents on already rent-burdened residents

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The Trump administration last month gave states the option to add work requirements as a condition of receiving Medicaid benefits, and a leaked document showing potential changes in legislation drafted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) suggests a similar requirement for federal housing assistance is in the works.

Under the legislation outlined in the document, HUD proposes an optional work requirement of up to 32 hours per week per adult benefiting from housing vouchers, public housing, or project-based rental assistance. It also proposes a new structure for calculating the rent paid by tenants receiving federal assistance that would effectively raise rents for many who already struggle to make ends meet.

“HUD must reconsider its misguided and cruel proposals to increase rent burdens for millions of the lowest income and most vulnerable seniors, families and people with disabilities,” wrote Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, in response to the document. “While [HUD] Secretary [Ben] Carson may try to portray the proposals as increasing ‘self-sufficiency,’ these proposals are more about punishing low income people than helping them.”

The document shows line-by-line edits to the United States Housing Act of 1937 and the Housing Act of 1959, with “draft, internal use only” in red at the bottom of every page. The document is incomplete, and at times unclear or contradictory, suggesting that whatever forthcoming legislation on the matter might be different than what’s in the document.

But many of the changes correspond with goals or changes stated by Carson or that are being pursued in other branches of the Trump administration. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced in December that states will have the option to add work requirements, and the Medicaid work requirement has already been adopted by Kentucky and Indiana.

HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan declined to comment on the document’s authenticity to the Intercept, but suggested more clarity will come when the Trump administration’s budget is released later this month.

Under the drafted legislation, the work requirement for federal assistance would apply to those receiving aid under public housing, housing vouchers, and project-based rent assistance. It would provide exclusions for families with elderly or disabled members, but not an exclusion for people caring for children. “Work” could include employment, training, or education, but not volunteer work, which qualifies in Medicaid’s work requirement.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, just 6 percent of those receiving assistance would be impacted by the work requirement rule after the exclusions, and given that developing methods for enforcement and monitoring could be costly, the change in policy could be much more trouble than it’s worth.

The document’s proposed changes to rent calculations for those receiving federal assistance could be even more burdensome than the work requirement. Currently, families receiving federal aid pay roughly 30 percent of their income in rent, and HUD picks up the difference between that and the fair market rent.

The new proposal would charge families whichever is the higher of two options: 35 percent of the family’s monthly gross income, or 35 percent of the amount earned by working 15 hours a week for four weeks at the minimum wage—$7.25. The latter would be $152.25 a month and would effectively be a new minimum rent for those receiving federal subsidies, which is three times higher than the current minimum rent.

Disabled and elderly families will pay less—the higher of 30 percent of their monthly gross income or $50—but deductions for dependents, elderly and disabled people, child care, and medical and disability expenses would all be eliminated.

How much of this makes it into formal legislation should become clearer when the Trump administration’s budget is released. Last year, the budget proposed $6 billion in cuts to HUD.