AR Briefly

Public housing work requirement clears Arkansas Legislature

By: - February 23, 2023 6:56 pm
Rep. Aaron Pilkington, Rep. Kendon Underwood

State Rep. Kendon Underwood (R-Cave Springs), right, talks with Rep. Aaron Pilkington (R-Knoxville) on the House floor. (Photo Courtesy of the Arkansas House)

The Arkansas Legislature sent a proposed law that would require able-bodied adults to work or volunteer part-time to receive federal housing assistance to Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ desk for approval Thursday.

The House voted along party lines to pass the amended House Bill 1196, with 80 Republicans voting yes, 15 Democrats voting no, and two members of each party not voting.

Able-bodied adults between the ages 19 and 64 would have to work or volunteer 20 hours per week or be participating in a workforce training program to qualify for housing assistance under the proposed policy. People with disabilities, parents of children under 5 years old and participants in drug and alcohol treatment programs would be exempted.

The bill originally did not exempt parents of children older than 4 months. Its sponsors, Rep. Kendon Underwood (R-Cave Springs) and Sen. Ben Gilmore (R-Crossett) raised the age to 5 years because children would be in school by then.

The bill does not provide assistance with childcare. Additionally, it requires housing agencies to terminate public assistance within 60 days to those who don’t comply with the work requirement.

Opponents of the bill have said adding “red tape” to the administration of public housing will be a barrier to access for people who qualify.

Public housing benefits are administered by local agencies that receive federal funding and must follow U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulations. Housing authority directors previously told the Arkansas Advocate they do not believe the state has a place in the administration of housing assistance, especially since the bill does not provide funding for the extra administrative duties of implementing the work mandate.

The bill would require housing authorities to seek HUD approval “to the extent necessary to carry out” the work requirement.

In a Feb. 3 email, a HUD spokesperson said the department declined to comment on proposed legislation.

Underwood said Feb. 6 that he did not speak to any Arkansas housing authority directors while drafting the bill. The original version of the bill passed the House that day with a similar party-line vote.

The Senate approved the bill, also along party lines, on Monday.

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Tess Vrbin
Tess Vrbin

Tess Vrbin came to the Advocate from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where she reported on low-income housing and tenants' rights, and won awards for her coverage of 2021 flooding and tornado damage in rural Arkansas. She previously covered local government for The Commercial Dispatch in Mississippi and state government for the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri.