WASHINGTON — Rebuffing complaints of a "budget-busting" price tag, the House Thursday approved a sweeping $725-million package of aid for the nation's homeless.
The bill passed 264 to 121 after eight hours of debate and 13 attempts to amend it. It now goes to the Senate, where leaders are crafting a lower-cost homeless bill of their own. If the measure becomes law, an appropriations bill would have to be passed to fund its programs.
"Nobody in this country should have to go without food and shelter," said Rep. Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.), the majority leader. "This bill recognizes that priority."
Likely to Be Opposed
Despite the strong support for homeless assistance, any aid measure is likely to face strong opposition from the Administration. A White House statement called the bill "costly and duplicative," saying that the federal government already has spent $260 million in fiscal 1987 for the homeless and that the rest of the burden should be carried by state and local governments.
"I'm disappointed to hear them say that," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), a co-sponsor of the bill and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health. "This bill will do a lot of good for the people on the bottom."
The bill has two components, one authorizing $500 million in the 1987 fiscal year for emergency food and shelter, low-income housing, permanent housing for the disabled, and mental and physical health care. The second part would provide $225 million over a four-year period for new programs to help feed the homeless.
Would Allot More Cheese
These extended programs would include efforts to inform the homeless of their food stamp eligibility and would allot an additional 14 million pounds of cheese from government surplus food stocks.
The bill would authorize $100 million for renovation of under-used public buildings, $70 million for charitable organizations and local governments that run food and shelter programs, $30 million for transitional housing such as group homes, $100 million for emergency shelters, $100 million for rental subsidy "certificates" under federal low-income housing programs and $100 million for emergency outpatient health care programs.
Among the unsuccessful amendments was a proposal by Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) to make the bill "revenue neutral"--meaning that the money would have to come from other existing programs. Michel's amendment was narrowly defeated, 207 to 203.
"This is a budget-busting effort to exacerbate the deficit," said Rep. William E. Dannemayer (R-Fullerton), one of several Republican members who complained about the cost. "We're already spending substantial sums to alleviate this problem."
Proposes AIDS Amendment
Dannemayer attempted unsuccessfully to amend the measure to require that all homeless people who use the new outpatient health care services be screened for AIDS.
One successful amendment, however, allowed communities to require that the able-bodied homeless make efforts to find work before becoming eligible for aid.
Waxman said that the bill's passage reflects a new Democratic solidarity on Capitol Hill. Only eight of the 229 Democrats present voted against the bill. "This says a lot about Democrats in Congress and their ability to decide to lead on an issue," he said.
House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) is expected to confer with Senate leaders next week on how differences in the two homeless bills should be ironed out.