The Rural Housing Service's (RHS) Section 521 Rental Assistance Program provides rental subsidies to about 250,000 rural tenants through 5-year contracts with project owners; 20-year contracts were also issued from 1978 through 1982. In early 2003, RHS reported hundreds of millions of dollars in unexpended balances, primarily tied to 5- and 20-year contracts issued from 1978 through 1982. Since contracts remain active until all funds are expired, some of these contracts will likely last as long as 38 years. GAO was asked to assess (1) the activity level of rental assistance contracts issued from 1978 through 1997 that have unexpended balances and the possibility of deobligating these balances, and (2) the activity level of rental assistance contracts issued from 1998 through 2002 and the accuracy of RHS's estimates of the rate at which these funds would be used. The Department of Agriculture commented on our responses to these questions.
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