Federal Budgeting 101: Why Advocates Matter

Every year, the Alliance and its partners work to educate Congress on increasing federal funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants. The program provides essential dollars to the local systems that respond to homelessness. Without it, those systems would be able to lift far fewer people out of homelessness.

The budgeting process starts in February, with the President’s release of recommendations for the upcoming fiscal year. Congress is supposed to approve the budget by the start of the fiscal year on October 1. That has not happened in recent years, for a number of reasons. The result: We must advocate for funding practically year-round.

Every year the Alliance reaches out to concerned advocates to help bring this effort to life. Here’s why it matters:

Members of Congress rely on experts in the communities they represent to tell them which federal programs to prioritize, and what funding levels they require.

The challenge for advocates is to help Congress produce a budget that will continue, and even accelerate, progress toward ending homelessness.

Obviously, funds are limited and most programs will not get every cent necessary. But it is critical for Congress to spend as much as possible on homeless services and affordable housing. In order to do so, members must understand the impact of any spending decisions on the programs and people in their districts. The best people to educate them on this are the people doing the work.

This collective advocacy has made it possible for local systems to do what they do best: end homelessness in their communities.

Between 2007 and 2019, homelessness across the country has decreased by 12.2 percent; nearly 100,000 fewer people experience it today than did then.

Homelessness went down, because funding went up. That enabled the field to continue putting people into homes, despite rising housing costs in many parts of the country. That successful return on investment is a strong argument for going further and doing more.

With homelessness rising again in many parts of the country, it’s incredibly important that aggressive advocacy continues.

Policymakers are fully motivated to listen to appeals for housing and homelessness assistance. Historically, the Alliance and its partners have worked hard to get their attention; now advocates are actually coming to them with a solution to what’s keeping them up at night.

Fortunately, most members of Congress see homelessness as a bipartisan issue. But Congress still needs to hear that funding is needed in their communities to end homelessness, boost the availability of affordable housing, and provide fundamental social safety-net services like Medicaid and SNAP. Now is not the time to reduce the urgency of advocacy.

People who end homelessness in their communities do some of the hardest work in the nation. While federal funding alone won’t get the job done for them, their work will become unimaginably harder if federal investments don’t keep pace with the historic rates at which people are being forced from their homes.

How to Start

At any given time, the Alliance and its partners are hard at work advocating for more money to advance solutions to homelessness and boost housing affordability.

People interested in being part of this effort are encouraged to visit the Alliance’s Take Action page, which includes tools to quickly send a letter to Congress or post one on social media. They can also stay in the loop by signing up for Alliance advocacy alerts.

Advocacy is an essential function in the effort to end homelessness. Any person can be an effective advocate, regardless of their experience. People with lived experience of homelessness, people who work within homelessness systems, volunteers, donors, and literally any other concerned citizen has a voice to share in this vitally important effort.