More than half of Wisconsin's state legislators demanded on Friday that President Donald Trump's administration restore funding to put homeless veterans in two state homes, warning that the funding cut would worsen veterans' suffering.
The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs received word in mid-June that the funding will end in September for the Veteran Housing and Recovery Programs at homes in King and Union Grove. Funding for the program at the Chippewa Falls veterans home will continue on a conditional basis.
WDVA officials say it isn't feasible to run the programs without federal funding. As a result, the King and Union Grove homes have stopped accepting new homeless vets. The WDVA has started working with veterans' advocacy groups to find new housing for 21 King vets and 28 Union Grove vets in the programs.
A bipartisan contingent of 81 state representatives and senators sent a letter Friday to Jeffery Quarles, director of the program that funds housing for homeless vets. The letter notes that the programs have been in effect at King since 1995 and at Union Grove since 1997 and ending them will cause more suffering.
"For some homeless veterans in our state, especially those in more northern and rural areas, there is simply an absence of necessary resources available to assist these individuals," the letter said. "Without the funding for these programs at King and Union Grove, there will be a lack of options for homeless veterans in certain areas of Wisconsin."
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs spokeswoman Jill Snyder had no immediate comment on the letter.
Under the programs, the federal government reimburses states for the cost of housing homeless vets. The program provided about $1.3 million annually for Wisconsin in each of the last two fiscal years, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
WDVA spokeswoman Cara Vigue said in an email Friday that the agency applied for reimbursement for fiscal year 2018 ahead of an April 4 deadline and was told in mid-June that there would be no money for King or Union Grove. Vigue said the agency hasn't received an explanation, other than that the decision was part of a "transformation" of the reimbursement program.
Snyder wrote in an email to The Associated Press on Friday that a review found some projects that the program funded were out of date and don't "reflect community needs and/or take into consideration current community resources."
"VA is simply allocating its resources differently in order to better serve veterans," she said, adding the agency offers other programs and services to help homeless vets.
She didn't mention Wisconsin specifically and didn't immediately reply to a follow-up message seeking more details.
The legislators also sent their letter to every member of Wisconsin's congressional delegation. House Speaker Paul Ryan and U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher sent their own letter to USDVA Secretary David Shulkin on Thursday saying they want to better understand why Union Grove and King didn't qualify for the reimbursements for the first time since the mid-1990s. They asked for a response by July 28.