Bipartisan frustration emerges as lawmakers question Newsom officials on homelessness spending following audit

Democrats and Republicans expressed their frustration on Monday as they interrogated the top housing officials of Governor Gavin Newsom during a tense legislative hearing. The focus of their inquiry was on the manner in which billions of state dollars have been utilized to address the escalating homelessness crisis.

The Assembly budget subcommittee on accountability and oversight held a hearing following the release of a state audit last month. The audit revealed that California has not been effectively monitoring the outcomes of its extensive spending on homelessness programs, leading to concerns about their effectiveness and transparency.

Over the past five years, California has allocated an astounding $20 billion towards addressing the issue of homelessness. Despite these efforts, the number of individuals experiencing homelessness has continued to rise, with a 6% increase in 2023 alone. Currently, California holds the unfortunate distinction of having the largest homeless population in the nation, as per the latest federal data.

The Legislature expressed concerns about the effectiveness of the spending and its potential impact on future funding requests from cities and counties amidst the state’s significant budget deficit.

Assemblymember Phil Ting, a representative from San Francisco, criticized the officials of Governor Newsom on Monday for failing to provide data on the effectiveness of programs aimed at housing homeless individuals. Despite repeated inquiries, the officials stated that the requested information is currently unavailable.

Assemblymember Ting expressed his frustration with the lack of information provided by the budget committee. He emphasized the importance of knowing the number of people who have been helped and the number of individuals who are no longer homeless. According to Ting, the public is interested in understanding how the allocated funds have been utilized.

Meghan Marshall, the executive officer of the California Interagency Council on Homelessness, mentioned that the homelessness system is currently going through a significant transformation. Officials are diligently working on fulfilling the reporting requirements that were mandated by a law signed by Governor Newsom in 2021.

According to Marshall, new information on the allocation of homelessness funding is expected to be released by July. He mentioned that the state is currently addressing data quality concerns in order to provide accurate and reliable data.

Ting expressed her frustration, stating, “That sounds more like an excuse.”

In a recent state audit, it was discovered that the council of Marshall has not been evaluating the success of its programs or consistently monitoring its spending. The audit highlighted the need for California to take further steps in assessing the cost-effectiveness of its homelessness programs.

Megan Kirkeby, deputy director for the California Department of Housing and Community Development, pointed out that cities and counties that were awarded grants were not previously obligated to demonstrate to the state how they utilized funding for homelessness programs.

Kirkeby expressed his concern and disappointment about the situation, stating that it is not something to take pride in or feel good about. He emphasized that it is not something that should be accepted. However, he also acknowledged that the state has made notable progress and is currently in the initial stages of a cultural transformation.

The audit findings have reignited discussions about the responsibilities of state and local officials in managing the crisis.

Last month, Governor Newsom, a Democrat, expressed the need for increased supervision of cities and counties while also issuing a warning to withhold homelessness funding from those who do not deliver tangible results. He firmly stated, “I no longer wish to allocate funds towards endeavors that do not yield success.”

Last month, a group of Democratic leaders, including Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, made their way to the state Capitol to advocate for increased funding to address the issue of homelessness in California’s largest cities.

Governor Newsom has put forward a proposal to discontinue grants that have been allocated to certain cities and counties since 2019 in order to address homelessness. However, he intends to keep other programs intact that are specifically dedicated to tackling this crisis. This decision comes as he and lawmakers are working together to find ways to reduce the budget deficit.

Gloria is calling on lawmakers to raise the funding by $1 billion, as recent data reveals that programs in Fresno, Riverside, and other cities have already assisted a minimum of 150,000 individuals.

“We embrace the idea of being held accountable,” Gloria expressed.

Republicans argue that the absence of data is a consequence of the Democrats’ strong control over the government in Sacramento. Some Republicans even suggest that the unchecked spending is a result of the one-party rule.

“We need to shift our focus from measuring success based on the amount of money we spend,” expressed Assemblymember Josh Hoover (R-Folsom), one of the advocates for the state audit. He emphasized his frustration with the current lack of urgency and insufficient data.

Democrats also expressed their frustrations with city and county leaders who are demanding additional funding. They were also disappointed with the lack of information provided by officials from Newsom’s administration when they sought clarification.

According to Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Rolling Hills Estates), it is crucial that we don’t simply throw money at a problem without ensuring that it is being spent wisely and in the most cost-effective manner. He believes that while we should continue to address the crisis at hand, we need to become more intelligent in our expenditure of funds.

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MBS Staff
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