OGDEN -- As the U.S. Senate haggles over the budget compromise that House members approved last week, low-income advocates worry that Utah's most vulnerable families are getting set up to suffer more in 2014.
Across-the-board federal budget cuts in 2013, known as sequestration, reduced Utah's number of Section 8 rental-subsidy vouchers by 266 -- those were lost through attrition. Funding cuts also forced the state's various housing authorities to spend down reserves to avoid revoking vouchers currently in use.
Andre Bartlome, finance director for Salt Lake County's Housing Authority, crunched numbers to determine what will happen if sequestration funding levels remain intact.
"If the Section 8 program in Utah receives the same amount in 2014 as it did in 2013, housing authorities will have a deficit reserve of over $3 million," Bartlome said in a recent email to the office of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Bartlome estimates that 645 more vouchers will disappear through attrition and an additional 553 families would have to be removed from the program.
That reduction of 1,198 families from the Section 8 program would strike a blow at progress Utah has made over the last decade to reduce homelessness, Bartlome added.
Those affected would include low-income families, veterans, people with disabilities, senior citizens and the chronically homeless.
For Ogden's Housing Authority, Bartlome's data shows a loss of 83 vouchers between 2012 and 2014. The agency's 2012 reserves of $619,812 were spent down to $180,675 this year and are projected to slump to a negative $258,460 in 2014.
Tim Smith, executive director for the Ogden Housing Authority, said his agency currently has a waiting list of 575 families, with an average wait of 18 months.
Smith is optimistic that no Ogden households will lose existing vouchers in 2014. However, further sequestration cuts, at a time when family homelessness is on the rise, "places a burden on housing authorities to serve those that are most vulnerable," he said.
Rather than cutting families next year, Smith said that, "if needed, the agency will make administrative decisions to reduce the amount of subsidy paid to continue to serve 100 percent of the clients."
The average Ogden rental subsidy is $444 per month, Bartlome's figures show, leaving low-income tenants to pay the remainder out of pocket.
Weber County's Housing Authority served 127 families in 2012, and that number is projected to fall to 106 in 2014. Its 2012 reserves of $121,439 dropped to $56,583 in 2013 and are projected to hit a negative $8,273 in 2014, Bartlome said.
"HUD is having us burn through our reserves, and then we're just using our budget authority or the amount we're funded each month," said Andi Watkins, executive director for Weber County's Housing Authority. "So it's scary because we don't have a cushion in case something happens."
To make ends meet, her agency whittles away at the benefits, which Watkins said makes life more difficult for the elderly, disabled and single heads of households who come to them for aid.
"We're not worried about having to pull any vouchers right now," Watkins said. "We just have to be very strict with our dollars, and make sure that we're managing what we do have very closely."
Tim Funk, who directs the Community Housing Advocacy Project for the nonprofit Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake City, estimates at least 500 Utah households could lose their rental subsidies in 2014.
The Senate could vote as early as today, Funk said, and if the president signs off on the compromise legislation, between $15 billion and $20 billion would be cut from domestic programs.
It would mark the third consecutive year that funding for Section 8 programs has decreased, Funk added.
"The nature of the present economy is such that low-income people are having a hell of a time trying to survive," he said. "Across the board, you've got more need and less answer for that need."
Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.