Michelle Singletary

WASHINGTON -- As with any budget, there is always room to cut.

But should everything be on the chopping block? Our federal budget deficit demands that we make cuts, and many of them will be deep and painful. However, just as with your personal budget, some things shouldn't be chopped.

As part of federal budget negotiations, $88 million in cuts were made to the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Housing Counseling Assistance programs for fiscal year 2011. The cuts will eliminate funding for nonprofit HUD-approved community-based housing counseling nationwide. Among other services, the counselors provide rental, pre-purchase, and reverse-mortgage advice, homeless assistance and foreclosure-prevention help. More than 2,700 counseling agencies participate in the HUD program.

"If there was any doubt that middle- and working-class Americans are paying more than their fair share in the deficit-reduction battles, the budget cuts recently enacted to prevent a government shutdown make it absolutely clear," said Marc H. Morial, president and chief executive of the National Urban League.

It is unreasonable, in the midst of a housing crisis that has financially devastated hundreds of thousands of households, that we are taking away access to free or low-cost counseling that helps these families.

Yes, let's cut out funding to legitimate groups so that crooks can swoop in and take even more advantage of homeowners looking for help to prevent foreclosures. Ironically, the budget cuts come just as HUD was launching a campaign to help homeowners facing foreclosure avoid scams by directing them to trusted housing counselors.

"With millions of homeowners in foreclosure or at risk of losing their homes as they fall behind on mortgage payments, and 8 million Americans expected to face foreclosure now through 2012, the timing of this campaign could not be more prudent," HUD said in a release about its "Know It. Avoid It. Report It" campaign.

Seniors especially could be affected by the cuts. Before taking out a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage, which is a reverse mortgage backed by the Federal Housing Administration, seniors must get housing counseling. Reverse mortgages, which allow people 62 or older to borrow against the equity in their homes, were largely created for those who are cash-poor and house-rich. Without supplemental funding, seniors already are facing higher costs to receive the mandatory counseling.

We also are eliminating the aid to housing counseling groups when so many people still lack the basic knowledge to make better home-buying decisions.

Michelle Singletary

Michelle Singletary is a nationally syndicated columnist for The Washington Post.

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