The Great Recession has steadily eaten away at the economic security of many Americans. Facing stagnant wages, growing unemployment, and rising health care costs, nearly 50 percent of Americans are slipping from the shrinking middle-class into low-income status or even poverty. In 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in order to bolster job creation and fend off an even more severe downturn. The ARRA passed without a single House Republican vote, with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) calling it a “woefully inadequate” response.
However, a new report from the National Alliance to End Homelessness reveals that the Recovery Act was vital in keeping Americans off the street. An estimated $1.5 billion of Recovery Act funds were directed towards “rental assistance and programs steering recently evicted people toward new housing.” According to Alliance President Nan Roman, those funds were instrumental in keeping the number of homeless down “even as the U.S. economy saw its worst downturn since the 1930s”:
The Homelessness Research Institute, the educational arm of Roman’s organization, put the number of Americans living on the streets or in shelters at just over 636,000 in 2011. That’s down about 6,000 from the group’s 2009 estimate. The figure is based on reports and street counts from state and local agencies that receive federal housing funds.
Roman said the stimulus money, coupled with pre-recession federal programs aimed at veterans and the chronically ill, have kept that figure down even as the U.S. economy saw its worst downturn since the 1930s. But that money is drying up now that the Obama administration, Congress and the states are grappling with budget issues fueled by the recession.
In fact, the Homelessness Prevention Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP) program alone, which was directly funded by the Recovery Act, helped 94 percent of the program’s participants who were homeless or a step away from homelessness find permanent housing. The Recovery Act also kept 6 million Americans out of poverty and created at least 3.3 million jobs.
But ARRA funds are running out and, as the report notes, the number of Americans facing the prospect of homelessness is continuing to rise. More than 4 million homes were foreclosed upon since 2007 and the New York Federal Reserve estimates that 3.6 million more will be lost to foreclosure in the next two years. If Republicans continue to slash these housing programs, thousands of vulnerable Americans will face the exact situation the Recovery Act helped successfully prevent.