Saturday, November 17, 2001

Sen. Paul Wellstone has succeeded in breaking a secret hold on his bill to fund programs for homeless veterans.
The bill won unanimous consent in the Senate late Thursday.
The Minnesota Democrat put a hold on all nonemergency bills Nov. 1 in retaliation for a senator anonymously blocking the veterans measure.
Republicans needed a final-passage vote on a measure that expired Oct. 21 to extend a ban on Internet taxes for two years.
Mr. Wellstone blocked the vote until the secret hold was lifted from his measure to increase funding from $24 million to $50 million for job training and placement for homeless veterans.
“This is a tremendous and hard-fought victory for America’s veterans,” Mr. Wellstone said.
“We still don’t know who was objecting to passage of the bill they never came forward but the important thing is that they got out of the way,” Mr. Wellstone said.
“It’s unfortunate that I had to break the bill free the hard way by holding up other legislation. But I think once other senators realized that I was serious, and all nonemergency legislation would be stalled in the Senate until we got this done for veterans, we started to see some progress,” Mr. Wellstone said.
The House last month passed a more aggressive, bipartisan homeless veterans bill that would authorize $1 billion over 10 years to end “chronic” homelessness.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican and chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and Rep. Lane Evans, Illinois Democrat.
Mr. Smith said yesterday they want a final version sent to President Bush by Thanksgiving to send a message to veterans they have not been forgotten.
“Veterans are going to soup kitchens on Thanksgiving and they need to know there are protections and concerns coming their way to raise their spirits,” Mr. Smith said.
“All they need is a second chance and that’s what this bill does,” Mr. Smith said.
“Shame on us if we don’t prioritize our veterans. We have sweated every detail,” he said.
There are 225,000 homeless veterans on any given day, many with drug addictions from post-traumatic stress disorder, Mr. Smith said.
During a September hearing on the House version, a homeless veteran told Congress he had lived in an abandoned vehicle until it was towed to a junk yard.
“He said, ‘One day they towed my home.’ My eyes welled up and that is what this is all about,” Mr. Smith said.
The House measure authorizes 2,000 additional HUD Section 8 low-income housing vouchers for homeless veterans.
It consolidates existing laws relating to homeless veterans and authorizes $285 million for the Homeless Grant and Per Diem Program.
Additionally, $250 million would be used to strengthen the Labor Department’s Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program.
“We’ve got a bill we can be absolutely proud of and we are going to make sure that bill gets to the White House,” Mr. Smith said.

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