December 9, 2021

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Youth Homelessness: HUD and HHS Could Enhance Coordination to Better Support Communities

17 min read
<div>What GAO Found The Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Health and Human Services (HHS) have taken steps to coordinate their programs that serve youth experiencing homelessness. These programs include HUD's Continuum of Care program, which funds housing and homelessness services for people of all ages in nearly all communities across the country, and HHS's Runaway and Homeless Youth program, which funds emergency shelters, transitional housing, and supportive services for youth in a few hundred communities. For example, HHS was involved in the development of HUD's Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program, which provides grants to several dozen communities to address youth homelessness. In addition, the agencies integrated data collection for the Runaway and Homeless Youth program into local data systems operated under the Continuum of Care program to help program providers better coordinate client services at the local level. GAO's review of documents and interviews with local program providers, agency officials, researchers, and advocates identified several challenges in serving youth experiencing homelessness, including both young adults and minors (those under 18). For example: Under the Continuum of Care program, communities must establish a process, known as coordinated entry, for prioritizing who receives limited housing resources. Many providers of homelessness services reported that their community's process tends to prioritize young adults lower than older adults. This is partly because these processes, following HUD guidance, give higher priority to those who have been homeless longer and who have documented disabilities. HUD has provided some information to communities on serving youth through coordinated entry, but this information largely has not addressed how to ensure that young adults are not consistently prioritized below other groups for housing. Most providers GAO interviewed reported that minors experiencing homelessness unaccompanied (without a parent or caregiver) do not participate in the coordinated entry process, with several noting there are limited housing options that can serve minors. Some providers and other stakeholders discussed challenges coordinating between the homelessness and child welfare systems to serve this group. However, HUD and HHS have provided limited information about or examples of how providers could coordinate to better serve unaccompanied minors. Although HUD and HHS have taken some steps to coordinate the Continuum of Care and Runaway and Homeless Youth programs, providers of these programs reported challenges in coordination and communication, including a lack of understanding of one another's programs and a need for more strategic planning on services for youth. HUD and HHS have acknowledged a need for additional information related to serving youth. Additional support from HUD and HHS in the areas identified above could help to improve coordination and the delivery of services to both young adults and minors at the local level. Why GAO Did This Study Youth homelessness is a widespread problem, with one recent study estimating that one in 10 young adults experience some form of homelessness over the course of a year—such as living on the streets or in a shelter or temporarily staying with others. GAO was asked to study youth homelessness. This report examines, among other things, HUD's and HHS's coordination to address youth homelessness and challenges communities face in serving youth through HUD and HHS programs. GAO analyzed federal agency documents related to homelessness efforts; conducted structured interviews with a nongeneralizable sample of 24 local homelessness providers, selected to reflect communities of different sizes and with different types of programs for youth; and interviewed other local program staff, youth homelessness researchers and advocates, and federal officials.</div>
Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs HUD’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs, in coordination with HHS’s Family and Youth Services Bureau, should develop additional information for homelessness providers on how the coordinated entry process can more effectively serve youth. This information should address (1) how to help ensure that youth are not consistently prioritized below older adults for housing and services in coordinated entry systems and (2) how CoCs can work with RHY providers and other stakeholders to serve youth who are not prioritized for housing or are not eligible for housing under CoC program rules. (Recommendation 1)

Open

When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs HUD’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs should provide additional information to CoCs to clarify how they could meet the standards outlined in regulation for serving people in Category 3 of HUD’s definition of homelessness. This information should include examples that illustrate specific ways that CoCs could demonstrate that use of funds to serve these youth and families meets Category 3 requirements, including methods CoCs could use to develop estimates of cost-effectiveness. (Recommendation 2)

Open

When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

United States Interagency Council on Homelessness The Interim Executive Director of USICH, in coordination with HUD’s Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs and HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, should establish a timeline for developing and disseminating information, such as an interactive decision-making tool, to help providers accurately identify the federal homelessness assistance programs for which individuals seeking services are eligible. (Recommendation 3)

Open

When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs HUD’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs, in coordination with USICH and HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, should establish a timeline for developing and disseminating information, such as an interactive decision-making tool, to help providers accurately identify the federal homelessness assistance programs for which individuals seeking services are eligible. (Recommendation 4)

Open

When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

Department of Health and Human Services HHS’s Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, in coordination with USICH and HUD’s Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs, should establish a timeline for developing and disseminating information, such as an interactive decision-making tool, to help providers accurately identify the federal homelessness assistance programs for which individuals seeking services are eligible. (Recommendation 5)

Open

When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs HUD’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs, in coordination with HHS’s Family and Youth Services Bureau and Children’s Bureau, should develop information for local providers that includes examples of how communities have addressed the needs of unaccompanied minors experiencing homelessness, including the role of the CoC program and other entities (such as RHY providers and child welfare) in serving this population in these communities. (Recommendation 6)

Open

When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

Department of Health and Human Services HHS’s Associate Commissioners for the Family and Youth Services Bureau and for the Children’s Bureau, in coordination with HUD’s Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs, should develop information for local providers that includes examples of how communities have addressed the needs of unaccompanied minors experiencing homelessness, including the role of the CoC program and other entities (such as RHY providers and child welfare) in serving this population in these communities. (Recommendation 7)

Open

When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs HUD’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs, in coordination with HHS’s Family and Youth Services Bureau, should provide communities with additional information on strategies and promising practices for coordinating their CoC and RHY programs’ efforts to address youth homelessness. (Recommendation 8)

Open

When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

Department of Health and Human Services HHS’s Associate Commissioner for the Family and Youth Services Bureau, in coordination with HUD’s Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs, should provide communities with additional information on strategies and promising practices for coordinating their CoC and RHY programs’ efforts to address youth homelessness. (Recommendation 9)

Open

When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs HUD’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs, in coordination with HHS’s Family and Youth Services Bureau, should develop a set of optional youth-specific performance measures that CoCs could use to assess their local efforts to address youth homelessness. HUD should also provide CoCs with information on how they might track these measures. (Recommendation 10)

Open

When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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As required by ARPA, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Treasury are responsible for issuing half of the CTC through periodic advance payments, known as advance CTC payments. IRS reported disbursing more than 106 million advance payments totaling over $45.5 billion as of September 25, 2021 (see figure). Dollar Amount and Count of Advance Child Tax Credit Payments, by Month, as of Sept. 25, 2021 IRS is conducting and planning several outreach efforts to increase the public’s awareness of advance CTC payments. However, IRS and Treasury have not developed a comprehensive estimate of individuals who are potentially eligible for advance CTC payments and the agencies have not set a participation goal. Such an estimate would enable Treasury and IRS to measure the tax credit’s participation rate, providing greater clarity regarding populations at risk of not receiving the payments. GAO recommends that Treasury, in coordination with IRS, estimate the number of individuals, includingnonfilers, who are eligible for advance CTC payments, measure the 2021 participation rate based on that estimate, and use that estimate to develop targeted outreach and communications efforts for the 2022 filing season; the participation rate could include individuals who opt in and out of the advance payments. Treasury neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. Child Nutrition Child nutrition programs administered by the Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) supply cash reimbursements to schools or other programs for meals and snacks provided to eligible children nationwide. In fiscal year 2019, before the pandemic, the four largest programs—the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Summer Food Service Program, and Child and Adult Care Food Program—along with other child nutrition programs, received $23.1 billion in federal funds. During a typical year, two of these programs—the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program—subsidize meals for nearly 30 million children in approximately 95,000 elementary and secondary schools nationwide. As of July 2021, FNS officials were unable to provide a plan showing how FNS intends to comprehensively analyze lessons learned during the pandemic, such as from operational and financial challenges. Further, according to FNS officials, while the School Meals Operations study—launched in spring 2021—is surveying school districts and state agencies that administer the federal child nutrition programs, the study is not gathering local perspectives directly from child care centers and day care homes or other local program sponsors that are not school districts. As a result, FNS may miss opportunities to identify lessons learned and will lack comprehensive information to aid its future planning. GAO recommends that the Department of Agriculture document its plan to analyze lessons learned from operating child nutrition programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. This plan should include a description of how the department will gather perspectives of key stakeholders, such as Child and Adult Care Food Program institutions and nonschool Summer Food Service Program sponsors. The Department of Agriculture—which includes FNS—agreed with this recommendation. Why GAO Did This Study As of September 23, 2021, the U.S. had about 43 million reported cases of COVID-19 and about 699,000 reported deaths, according to CDC. The country also continues to experience economic repercussions from the pandemic. Six relief laws, including the CARES Act, had been enacted as of August 31, 2021, to address the public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19. As of that same date (the most recent for which government-wide data was available), the federal government had obligated a total of $3.9 trillion and expended $3.4 trillion of the $4.8 trillion in COVID-19 relief funds that had been appropriated by these six laws, as reported by federal agencies. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines the federal government’s continued efforts to respond to, and recover from, the COVID-19 pandemic. GAO reviewed data, documents, and guidance from federal agencies about their activities. GAO also interviewed federal and state officials, stakeholders from organizations for localities, and other stakeholders.
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    What GAO Found The U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) and the six networks it oversees seek to inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. Amendments to legislation have affected USAGM's governing authorities and organizational structure by shifting authority from a bipartisan board to a Chief Executive Officer (CEO), with advice from an Advisory Board. For example, the legislation granted the CEO the authority to name and replace members of USAGM's grantee boards, which manage the grantee networks. However, some network officials have concerns about certain provisions in the legislation, particularly about the process for selecting grantee board members. Determining how to appoint or remove members of USAGM's grantee boards in a way that includes Advisory Board involvement may help ensure the professional independence and integrity of USAGM's grantees. Network and USAGM officials said that previous members of USAGM leadership took several actions that did not align with USAGM's firewall principles. According to USAGM, the firewall protecting the networks' independence is central to the credibility and effectiveness of USAGM's networks (see fig.). However, the parameters of the firewall are not specifically laid out in legislation. Delineation of what is and is not permissible under the firewall may help ensure the professional independence and integrity of the agency and its networks. The U.S. Agency for Global Media's (USAGM) View of Its Legislative Firewall aUnited States International Broadcasting Act of 1994, Pub. L. 103–236, title III (Apr. 30, 1994). According to USAGM, the statutory firewall is found in 22 U.S.C. § 6204(b)) and 22 U.S.C. § 6202(a)(5) and (b)(1). Various USAGM and network officials told us that some past management actions have hindered USAGM's oversight of networks' operations, but current leaders are taking corrective actions. For example, a halt on funding caused 49 of 60 active internet freedom projects to stop, but leaders have now released the funding. Nevertheless, other actions to ensure accountability of grantees, such as establishing Standard Operating Procedures for Monitoring Grants , have not corrected a longstanding significant deficiency in grants monitoring reported by independent audits of USAGM's financial statements for the past 5 years. USAGM's leaders now have a plan aimed at correcting audit deficiencies by hiring a contractor to implement several grant oversight improvements. Why GAO Did This Study USAGM, formerly known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors, is an independent federal agency whose mission is to provide unbiased news in some countries where freedom of information is restricted. With a budget of around $810 million in fiscal year 2020, USAGM oversees two federal networks—Voice of America and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting—and four grantees—Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Middle East Broadcasting Networks, and Open Technology Fund. Each grantee has a separate board. A Senate committee report included a provision for GAO to consult with the Committee on Appropriations on an evaluation of USAGM's governance structure and oversight processes for its broadcasting entities. This report examines (1) how recent statutory amendments affected USAGM's governing authority and organizational structure, (2) the extent to which USAGM's management actions aligned with its policies on protecting editorial independence, and (3) the extent to which USAGM has taken actions to ensure oversight of network operations and accountability of its grantees. GAO reviewed relevant laws and agency documents and interviewed USAGM and network officials, including board members.
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  • Private Water Utilities: Actions Needed to Enhance Ownership Data
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    What GAO Found Available information on private for-profit drinking water utilities shows that 14 publicly traded companies served customers in 33 states in 2019. However, the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) primary source of publicly available information on U.S. drinking water utilities—the Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS)—contains ownership information that is limited by inaccuracies. EPA collects information in SDWIS from states but does not include definitions for utility ownership types in its data entry guidance. In addition, EPA takes actions to verify some of the data, but does not verify or correct ownership data. EPA and others use SDWIS for purposes such as analyzing Safe Drinking Water Act violations by type of utility ownership. Such analysis can help EPA and states build utility capacity to provide safe drinking water. By defining ownership types, and verifying and correcting the data in SDWIS, EPA could help ensure the data are accurate and reliable for users of the data and the public. EPA provided over $500 million in Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) assistance to for-profit utilities for 226 projects to help ensure delivery of safe drinking water from January 2010 through June 2020. EPA's Drinking Water SRF program, created under the Safe Drinking Water Act, provides grants to states for low- or no-interest loans or grants to drinking water utilities for infrastructure projects. The amount provided to for-profit water utilities is small, about 2 percent of the $26.5 billion provided overall from January 2010 through June 2020. States That Provided Private For-Profit Utilities with Assistance from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, since January 2010 Why GAO Did This Study The roughly 50,000 drinking water utilities in the United States face steep costs—more than $470 billion over the next 20 years, according to EPA estimates—to repair and replace drinking water infrastructure. These costs are passed on to customers through water rates. States regulate the rates charged by privately owned water utilities. EPA has responsibilities to implement programs to further the health protection objectives of the Safe Drinking Water Act. GAO was asked to review private for-profit drinking water utilities and rates. This report examines, among other things, (1) information available from EPA and other sources about the number and characteristics of private for-profit water utilities in the United States, and (2) Drinking Water SRF assistance provided to private for-profit water utilities. GAO reviewed EPA SDWIS data, Drinking Water SRF data, and Global Water Intelligence data, as well as EPA's and others' documents. GAO also interviewed EPA and water utility stakeholders.
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  • Sexual Assault and Harassment: NOAA Has Made Substantial Progress in Prevention and Response but Could Further Improve Its Processes
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    What GAO Found The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (2017 NDAA) required the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to develop a policy for preventing and responding to sexual assault and sexual harassment of NOAA's workforce. In response to the 2017 NDAA, NOAA issued its Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Prevention and Response Policy in February 2018. GAO found that this 2018 policy is consistent with most of the relevant legal requirements from the 2017 NDAA and is partially or not consistent with some. For example, although NOAA has protocols for investigating allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment, NOAA's policy does not specifically describe these protocols, as required by the 2017 NDAA. In addition, the policy follows most selected practices recommended by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in its 2017 Promising Practices for Preventing Harassment document. While NOAA's actions followed many selected EEOC promising practices, GAO found some shortcomings in the agency's prevention and response processes. For example, NOAA's 2020 mandatory training for supervisors and managers did not explain the consequences for failing to fulfill the reporting responsibilities related to allegations of harassment—in contrast to EEOC's promising practices. Specifically, the training did not describe the consequences managers could face if, for example, they failed to report incidents that they witnessed or that were reported to them. In the absence of training or other mechanisms to clearly outline consequences for failing to fulfill managers' responsibilities, agency managers may allow harassing behavior to continue, thereby raising liability concerns and undermining the message that sexual harassment is not tolerated. In addition, EEOC's promising practices state that those implementing an agency's complaint system should appropriately document every complaint. The offices responsible for implementing each of NOAA's complaint systems do not maintain or collect data in a consistent manner and have not always provided data to management in a consistent format. Consequently, the agency has experienced difficulty reconciling data from its multiple complaint systems for annual reports to Congress and is hindered in its ability to target prevention and response efforts, according to agency officials. Extent to which NOAA's 2018 Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Policy and the Agency's Related Actions Follow Selected Promising Practices Summary Results of GAO analysis NOAA's 2018 policy follows most selected Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) Promising Practices for Preventing Harassment. ● NOAA's leadership and accountability actions to prevent and respond to sexual harassment follow selected EEOC promising practices. ◐ NOAA's anti-harassment training follows selected EEOC promising practices. ◐ NOAA's harassment complaint systems follow selected EEOC promising practices. ◐ Source: GAO. I GAO-21-560 ● Follows ◐ Partially Follows Why GAO Did This Study Sexual assault and sexual harassment can have harmful effects on the individual employees as well as the workplace by undermining employee morale and decreasing productivity. In 2018, NOAA identified several factors indicating that the agency may be at risk for harassment or assault, or both. GAO was asked to review NOAA's policies and actions for preventing and responding to sexual assault and sexual harassment. This report examines: (1) the extent to which NOAA's policy is consistent with relevant legal requirements in the 2017 NDAA and follows EEOC's promising practices and (2) the extent to which NOAA's actions follow EEOC's promising practices. GAO reviewed NOAA's prevention and response policy and actions from 2016 through August 2021. GAO analyzed data, interviewed officials, and compared NOAA's policy and actions to relevant sections of the 2017 NDAA and EEOC's promising practices.
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