Help for Housing

Bipartisan legislation designed to help homeowners and businesses cope with the housing crisis passed the Senate on Thursday. The package, which the Senate approved 84 to 12, included a provision by Senator Bernie Sanders to increase by $57 million the amount of federal grants for disabled veterans to adapt their homes. "With so many soldiers coming back from Iraq with disabilities, it is absolutely imperative that we make sure they have as normal a life as possible and that certainly includes

Bipartisan legislation designed to help homeowners and businesses cope with the housing crisis passed the Senate on Thursday. The package, which the Senate approved 84 to 12, included a provision by Senator Bernie Sanders to increase by $57 million the amount of federal grants for disabled veterans to adapt their homes. "With so many soldiers coming back from Iraq with disabilities, it is absolutely imperative that we make sure they have as normal a life as possible and that certainly includes adapting their homes to meet their needs," Sanders said. The final bill also included energy tax credits cosponsored by Sanders that would promote renewable energy and energy efficiency. Sanders also cosponsored an amendment by Senator Patrick Leahy that would guarantee Vermont a $20 million share of $4 billion in community development block grants to prevent home foreclosures and to refurbish abandoned homes.

Under Sanders' veterans amendment, veterans with certain severe service-connected disabilities would be eligible for grants of up to $60,000, a $10,000 boost from the current law, to build wheelchair ramps and to make other changes so they could live at home. Veterans who were blinded or lost arms in war zones or while on active duty may receive up to $12,000, a $2,000 increase, for remodeling their homes. The amendment also would provide for automatic annual adjustments pegged to a home construction cost index to ensure that the benefits keep pace with rising prices. Wounded veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have found that the program now on the books does not cover all of the costs of adapting their homes. Sanders' amendment was supported by the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Vietnam Veterans of America, AMVETS, Paralyzed Veterans of America and others.

Before passing the bill, the Senate also added the energy provisions. It would extend expiring federal tax benefits for investment in solar, wind and other sustainable energy sources. "There are huge opportunities that we will lose if we do not extend these sustainable energy tax credits," Sanders said. "Not only will these tax credits enable us to continue our effort to break our dependency on the fossil fuels that cause global warming and pollute our environment, but they will provide a significant number of good-paying green jobs in the areas of wind, solar and geothermal - something that I am working very hard on and believe has tremendous potential for our economy."

Also, the bill included a Leahy-Sanders Amendment that would allot $20 million to help Vermont deal with the foreclosure crisis that is sweeping the country. "With this funding, it is my hope that Vermont's cities and towns will be able to provide immediate assistance to the struggling middle class trying to hold onto their homes and improve communities hit hard by foreclosures," Sanders said. "Clearly, we must do everything we can to prevent the American dream of homeownership from turning into the American nightmare of foreclosure that too many American families are experiencing."