FYI: Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez took the White House’s fiscal year 2004 budget to the Hill this week, testifying before three Senate and House committees overseeing HUD funds. The most controversial proposal in the administration’s budget is the conversion of rental assistance vouchers–the Section 8 program–into a block grant dubbed Housing Assistance for Needy Families. Martinez told lawmakers that the conversion would give states greater flexibility in distributing the funds, downsize federal involvement from paying 2,600 public housing authorities to 60 state and territorial governments, and allow more coordination with TANF. All of this, he said, would help reduce the amount of Section 8 funds that don’t actually get spent–nearly $2.5 billon over the last two years. Housing advocates, however, say the conversion, as with other block grants, will simply prompt the slow but steady erosion of funding for housing vouchers and shift the onus of dealing with that shortfall to already burdened states, forcing them to limit options for those who need the assistance most. [3/7/03]