HUD Secretary Pressed on COVID-19 in House, Senate Hearings

Legislation | March 16, 2020 | by Linda Couch

In March hearings of the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, HUD Secretary Ben Carson was asked to defend his department’s work to help HUD-assisted communities during the coronavirus pandemic.

In March hearings of the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, HUD Secretary Ben Carson was asked to defend his department’s work to help HUD-assisted communities during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the House Subcommittee’s March 4 hearing, Secretary Carson acknowledged that “it’s mostly the elderly and those with underlying issues” who are most at risk and he assured Chair David Price (D-NC) that HUD had provided “best practices to public housing agencies to “keep people safe.” When asked about his role on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Secretary Carson said the Task Force “is considering all possibilities,” that it meets every day, and that “we all ask pertinent questions.”

When questioned on HUD’s COVID-19 efforts at the March 11 Senate Subcommittee hearing, Secretary Carson said that HUD had “designed a toolkit that we’ve sent out to all of the people we serve - the PHAs, all of the assisted housing 202 program for the elderly and the disabled in terms of best practices, in terms of who they need to be in contact with with respect to the local health agencies, a list of best practices in order to prevent the prevent the spread of disease.”

 “Do you have any plans in place for mass shelters for large populations of homeless” who may become sick from COVID-10?], Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) asked. “This will be a FEMA issue and the immediate care [of people} will be a state health issue. Senator Murray continued her questioning, asking if HUD had the resources it needed to provide cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment to PHAs and owners. “That would not be something that HUD would do,” Secretary Carson said. “There is a mechanism for them,” the Secretary said, “and it’s working with their local health departments.” “Under HUD,” Senator Murray said, “we should have plans at the federal level to help local providers.” Secretary Carson responded, “HUD does not have a mechanism for distributing all of that all over the country.”

When asked by Senate Subcommittee Chair Susan Collins (R-ME) how HUD the administration of its programs that are aimed at at-risk populations, specifically people currently experiencing homelessness and older adults, has changed because of COVID-19. “We are very concerned,” the Secretary said. “We have a task force of HUD leadership that meets at least once a day to address how we remain efficient, what contingency plans are needed in case we have to work from home, how to have cleaning staff clean appropriate places in appropriate ways. We’ve also designed a toolkit for PHAs, all assisted housing program for the elderly in terms of best practices, in terms of who they need to be in contact with.”

It should be noted that on March 3, HUD’s Office of Multifamily Housing sent an email to stakeholders that included four links to CDC information that was otherwise available to the general public. No other HUD information related to COVID-19 was provided for multifamily owners until HUD put up the first version of HUD’s coronavirus webpage, on March 6, where it posted the same four CDC links for assisted housing owners. The first version of HUD’s questions and answers for assisted housing owners, prompted by LeadingAge pushing dozens of questions to HUD, was released on March 12 and is now being continuously updated.

In other appropriations news, LeadingAge continues to work with House and Senate offices to achieve our policy priorities for FY21, as well as to secure emergency funding to help providers meet their significant COVID-19 related costs.