WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Tom Udall joined Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) in introducing bipartisan legislation to combat homelessness and improve direct support services for Native American veterans. Hoeven and Udall are the chairman and vice-chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Tester and Isakson are the ranking member and chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
The legislation, the Tribal HUD-VASH Act would formally authorize a joint Tribal housing initiative between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) program, which provides rental and housing assistance to homeless and at-risk homeless veterans in Indian Country.
Only 26 of the 567 federally recognized Native American Tribes received HUD-VASH vouchers under the current Tribal HUD-VASH demonstration, yet Native Americans serve in the military at a higher percentage than any ethnic demographic in the United States.
“Tribal members in New Mexico and throughout the nation have a proud history of military service, and they have served our nation with honor and distinction. Unfortunately, research from HUD and the VA shows that Native veterans are disproportionately affected by homelessness,” Udall said. “It is our solemn duty to ensure Native veterans have the services they have earned when they return home, including safe and quality housing. That’s why our bill tackles this unacceptable reality head-on by authorizing the Tribal HUD-VASH Program to ensure that critical housing and support services are available to homeless veterans living on or near Tribal lands. I am proud to join my colleagues on both the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to introduce this bipartisan bill, and I look forward to working with them to get it passed by the full Senate.”
“Every day that Native American veterans struggle with homelessness is a day that we have failed to uphold this country’s promise to our veterans,” Tester said. “It is critical that these resources are available for every person who bravely served our nation, and that includes the veterans in Indian Country.”
“No veteran, including Tribal veterans, should face homelessness,” said Hoeven. “This legislation will help ensure that Native Americans who courageously served our country have access to safe and quality housing. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to quickly pass this bipartisan bill.”
“No veteran should be without a home,” said Isakson. “This bipartisan legislation will help continue efforts to provide housing and supportive services to Native American veterans.”
HUD-VASH has supported homeless veterans since 2008 but prior to 2015, Native American tribes and tribal housing authorities were unable to access HUD-VASH funds. Udall joined Tester to help pass legislation that required HUD and the VA to set up a pilot program to provide Native American tribes entry into the HUD-VASH program — that pilot expired last year. The Tribal HUD-VASH Act would authorize the program and ensure that at least 5 percent of all HUD-VASH vouchers are set aside for Native American Tribes and Tribal housing authorities to address veteran homelessness. The bill would also ensure that HUD and the VA modify the initiative through Tribal consultation to better guide available resources to homeless Native American veterans.
In addition, the bill directs the Indian Health Service to provide any assistance requested by HUD or the VA to implement the initiative, and directs HUD, the VA, and the Indian Health Service to conduct a review of the initiative every five years.
The Senate Indian Affairs Committee heard testimony on the Tribal HUD-VASH Act yesterday.