House subcommittee discusses program to pull people out of poverty

The House Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance held a hearing this week to examine the effectiveness of a program that enables Housing and Urban Development-assisted families to reduce their dependency on welfare assistance and rental subsidies.

The Family Self-Sufficiency Program (FSS), established in 1990, is designed to help low-income families build wealth and achieve economic self-sufficiency. The FSS program leverages local resources so families can increase their incomes and reduce or eliminate the need for government assistance.

“Today’s subcommittee on the Family Self-Sufficiency Program was essential in learning what needs to be done to achieve our goal of helping families both increase their employability and become less dependent on government assistance,” Subcommittee Chairman Sean Duffy (R-WI) said.

Aaron Gornstein, president and CEO, Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH), said owning asserts, like affordable housing, has significant positive impacts for children, adults and seniors.

“POAH is committed to multiplying those positive impacts by using our housing as a platform for the delivery of evidence-based supportive services and resources targeted to residents’ needs – like onsite after-school to boost educational achievement; nursing visits to help residents age in place; or job training and credit building to help residents increase earnings and assets.” Gornstein said.

Research shows that assets can provide families with financial security and prevent them from falling into poverty when faced with unexpected expenses, such as job loss, broken down cars needed to get to work, or emergency medical bills, Jeffrey Lubell, director of housing and community initiatives at Abt Associates, said.

“People can also use assets to invest in themselves and their families by pursuing further education or training to increase wages and job satisfaction, starting a business, putting a down payment on a home, or saving for their children’s education. Finally, the hope and confidence that successful asset-building instills in a family can both enhance their well-being and motivate them to set, pursue, and achieve long-term goals,” Lubell said.

Stacy Spann, executive director, Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County, said a holistic approach is needed to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty

“[I]t is critical to connect all family members to services when and where available,” Spann said. “Once a household is in HOC housing or in the FSS program, it opens the entire family up to our other basket of services. It ensures we are taking a two-generational approach to guiding families toward economic stability and opportunity. [T]here is an opportunity to consider the participation of children and other related household members in educational and enrichment programming as a key outcome measurement for success.”

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that there are over 2 million heads of households living in federally subsidized rental housing who are neither elderly nor disabled and thus are potential FSS participants, Kristin Siglin, senior vice president, policy at Housing Partnership Network, said.

“A systematic and thoughtful expansion of FSS could bring these households into the economic mainstream and free up scarce rental housing for families that are not currently served,” Siglin said.