June 04, 2020

Reps. Mike Levin and Gus Bilirakis Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Bill to Expand VA Services for Homeless Veterans

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Representatives Mike Levin (D-CA) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Chair and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to expand and strengthen Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) services for homeless veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill is also cosponsored by House Committee of Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (D-CA) and Ranking Member Dr. Phil Roe (R-TN).

The Senate companion version to the Homeless Veteran Coronavirus Response Act was also introduced today by Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and cosponsored by Senate Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-MT).

The COVID-19 crisis has affected tens of thousands of homeless veterans as shelters have closed and funding for vital services have become strained. The bill allows VA to use existing funds for a wider range of services; authorizes the Department to collaborate with outside organizations to facilitate shelters on its properties; loosens restrictions on Grant and Per Diem (GPD) payments; and requires VA to ensure veterans participating in VA homeless programs have access to VA telehealth services.

“The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the crisis of veteran homelessness that we were already facing, and we must do more to get our nation’s heroes off the streets,” said Rep. Levin. “Our legislation takes commonsense steps to facilitate shelters, transitional housing, and other services for veterans and their families in the face of public health challenges. We must expand these services as soon as possible, and I hope this bipartisan bill can advance through Congress and get to the President’s desk without delay.”

“During this pandemic, we want to provide a safety net for our most vulnerable populations- especially those who have honorably served our nation,” said Rep. Bilirakis. “This bipartisan bill provides much needed emergency  relief as part of our larger initiative to end Veteran homelessness.”

"As the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates economic challenges and veteran unemployment rises to almost 12 percent, we must take immediate steps to assist the tens of thousands of homeless veterans,” said Chairman Takano. “This new legislation from Subcommittee Chair Levin and Ranking Member Bilirakis will help ensure we can support our most vulnerable veterans throughout this crisis by providing food, safe shelter, and access to VA telehealth services."

“Supporting veterans who are homeless or at-risk by providing housing, healthcare, and other necessities has long been one of our Committee’s top priorities,” said Ranking Member Roe. “I am proud to cosponsor this bill today alongside Chairman Takano, Congressman Bilirakis, and Congressman Levin to continue our work to make sure that the most vulnerable veterans are taken care of during the COVID-19 pandemic and long after.”

More background on the Homeless Veteran Coronavirus Response Act:

  • Allows VA to use existing homelessness funds to provide transportation, food, shelter, telecommunications equipment and services, clothing, blankets, hygiene items, and other items for homeless veterans during the COVID-19 emergency;
  • Authorizes VA to collaborate with outside organizations to manage the use of its property, buildings, or other facilities as temporary shelter locations during the COVID-19 emergency;
  • Establishes the maximum Grant and Per Diem (GPD) per diem rate during the COVID-19 emergency to 300 percent of the rate authorized for state homes for domiciliary care; (The CARES Act authorized VA to waive limits on per diem rates during the COVID-19 emergency.)
  • Authorizes GPD providers to use per diem payments during the COVID-19 emergency to provide assistance such as food, shelter, clothing, blankets, and hygiene items to homeless veterans, as well as formerly homeless veterans residing in a facility operated by a GPD recipient;
  • Authorizes VA to provide GPD payments for additional transitional housing beds without notice or competition during the COVID-19 emergency;
  • Authorizes VA to waive GPD or Compensated Work Therapy Transitional Residence (CWT-TR) inspection and life safety code requirements during the COVID-19 emergency if the facility meets applicable local safety requirements to allow grantees to quickly identify temporary alternate sites, facilitate social distancing or isolation, or facilitate activation of continuation of a program;
  • Requires VA to ensure veterans participating in VA homeless programs have access to VA telehealth services for which they are eligible during the COVID-19 public health emergency, including by ensuring such capabilities are available to veterans, case managers, and community providers participating in VA homeless programs.