Kathryn Monet, chief executive officer of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans nonprofit, said Cawthorn’s “zero dollars” claim is “absolutely untrue.” Tom Porter, executive vice president for government affairs at the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America advocacy organization, said it is “simply not true.” Porter added that the American Rescue Plan has an “enormous amount of money for veterans in it” and that it’s important for officials to “be accurate” about government spending given that veterans are listening.
Cawthorn’s office said it could not speak on the record about the tweet because it came from the congressman’s campaign Twitter account, not his official congressional account. But a source close to Cawthorn who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that the tweet was actually an assertion that zero dollars of this particular ICE contract to house migrants is going to homeless veterans — not, in other words, a claim that the government is spending zero dollars on homeless veterans period.
But Cawthorn did not make that clear at all. If he had wanted to say that zero dollars of an immigration contract unrelated to veteran homelessness is going to veteran homelessness, he could have explicitly said so — though this would have made the tweet sound pretty bizarre. The words Cawthorn actually tweeted left the impression that he was talking about the government’s overall spending on homeless veterans.
Spending in the billions
The federal government’s annual homelessness assessment found
there were 37,252 veterans experiencing homelessness on a single night in January 2020. That is a decline of nearly 50% from the 2009 figure but a slight increase from the 2019 figure.
The VA’s base budget for fiscal 2021 allocates about $1.9 billion to veterans’ homelessness. (Here
are some details about what the VA does for homeless veterans.) The VA said
in its fiscal 2021 budget plan that it intended to spend another $313 million on suicide prevention programs for veterans.
The VA planned to spend $10.2 billion in fiscal 2021 on mental health services. Even though this is not anti-suicide spending specifically, some of it very possibly helps prevent suicides.
Federal spending on homeless veterans is not limited to the VA. For example, the Department of Labor runs the Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program, which provides more than $50 million per year
for an initiative
aimed at helping homeless veterans get and keep jobs.
In addition to these budget allocations, which were approved by former President Donald Trump in 2020
, pandemic relief bills signed by both Trump in 2020
and Biden in 2021 provided millions in extra funding to address homelessness among veterans. Cawthorn, who took office in January 2021, joined his Republican colleagues in voting against Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
The American Rescue Plan includes $14.5 billion
for veterans health care, broadly defined. Hayes, the VA spokesman, said “part” of this money — he said he could not yet provide a specific dollar figure — “will fund expanded transitional housing, smartphones, and other health care and support services to Veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.” Hayes said “these expanded services helped an estimated 37,000 Veterans under the CARES Act,” the relief bill Trump signed into law in March 2020
The American Rescue Plan includes a $386 million program
to pay for retraining and housing support
for up to 17,250 veterans who became unemployed because of the pandemic. Porter, of the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans’ group, called the housing allowance “generous” and “significant.”
The American Rescue Plan also includes broader provisions
that could help veterans, among others, who are dealing with housing challenges — such as more than $21 billion for rental assistance
, $10 billion for mortgage assistance
, $5 billion in emergency housing vouchers
, and nearly $5 billion for homelessness assistance
. And there is $4 billion for the prevention and treatment of mental health and substance abuse disorders
Cawthorn was right that the Biden administration is placing some migrants in hotel rooms, though it’s worth noting that migrants were sometimes placed in hotel rooms under Trump as well
. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement to CNN on Saturday that the $86.9 million contract with a Texas-based organization, Endeavors, would provide 1,239 beds — plus health assessments, Covid-19 testing and processing services — to migrant families that crossed the border with Mexico. Reuters reported
that these migrants would “initially” be housed “in seven different brand-name hotels”; ICE and Endeavors would not provide more details to CNN.