Following large-scale public opposition, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin backtracked on a plan that would have ended one of the two agency's homelessness projects after the original decision — to stop funding the program — was called "a new low" for President Donald Trump's administration.
Shulkin's staff told advocates for the program on a Dec. 1 phone call the program would be killed and the funding would be funneled to local VA hospitals that would have authority to decide how it's used, Politico reported. But just days prior, on Nov. 27, Shulkin and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson made an appearance at a Washington shelter and promised that Trump was strongly committed to ending homelessness among the veteran community.
The $460 million program remains intact after staunch opposition from veterans advocates and state officials.
"There will be absolutely no change in the funding to support our homeless program," Shulkin said in a press release. "We will not be shifting any homeless program money to the Choice program. The president has increased VA homeless program funding by $66 million in his fiscal year 2018 budget."
The statement continued, "Over the next six months, I will solicit input from our local VA leaders and external stakeholders on how best to target our funding to the geographical areas that need it most. Based on that input we will come forward with proposals for fiscal year 2019 on how to improve the targeting of our homeless program funding."
But HUD also co-sponsored the program, and officials within the department also attacked the move. "The original VA decision was buried in a September circular without prior consultation with HUD or veterans’ groups," Politico reported. The move had caught VA employees off guard and "the decision to cut it was made with no input from rank-and-file VA or HUD staff and surprised even employees at the VA."
The controversial decision and eventual backtrack came as HUD released its annual survey on Wednesday that highlighted a 1.5 percent increase in veteran homelessness in the country in 2016, the first increase since 2010, Politico reported.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. — a member of a veterans' affairs subcommittee — said the earlier decision to cut the programs funding was "a new low" for the Trump administration. She added it was "especially callous and perplexing" amid the results of the new HUD survey.