Congress’s Latest Budget Deal Will Help Us End Homelessness—If We Fight for It

Early this morning, Congress ended a brief government shutdown and voted to finally support a budget deal. This means there is now a firm schedule for finishing work on federal spending.

The two-year budget agreement increases caps on overall non-defense spending, and adds critical one-time investments for disaster recovery. The details include:

  • $63 billion increase in overall non-defense discretionary funding for FY 2018, and a $68 billion increase in FY 2019
  • $6 billion of the cap increase specifically targeted to fund the fight against the opioid and mental health crises
  • More than $7 billion in mandatory funding and a two-year reauthorization for Community Health Centers
  • Ten-year reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP), increased from six years.
  • $23.5 billion in additional funding (above the spending caps) for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund
  • $28 billion in additional funding (above the spending caps) for disaster-related Community Development Block Grants (CDBG)

The increases in total spending for discretionary programs are key: this is a category that includes virtually all programs at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and almost all targeted homelessness programs at other agencies. With overall spending levels established, the Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate are working on bills that would set spending specific levels for all federal programs, in order to be ready to pass it by March 23.

This means homelessness assistance advocates have a rare opportunity to increase the capacity of those programs. But it won’t be easy.

The Top Priority

The first priority is always to maintain existing capacity for all programs. Many programs at HUD, including the Continuum of Care and also the much larger Section 8 programs, need more money just to serve the same number of people while keeping up with rapidly rising rents.

For homelessness programs, however, maintaining existing capacity is not enough. Rising rents, more evictions, and greater inequality mean more people turning to the homelessness system for help. These programs need more capacity to keep up with rising demand. If Congress does not match this rising demand with a significant increase in funding, we will go backward — which is unacceptable.

People working on this issue (that’s you!) have made these programs worth investing in. By using the funds available — and using them wisely — you have made these programs work better and more efficiently. As a result, you’ve consistently moved the largest possible number of vulnerable people from homelessness into housing.

Now Congress needs to do its part, and under this budget deal, they have the means to do so.

Will they do it? It depends on how we all advocate for what we need.

Keeping the Beat

The Alliance’s field has had its best year for advocacy in recent memory. Congress may have gotten off tempo in recent months, but you haven’t. We now need to finish the job.

We will need a constant drumbeat from now until the final bill is passed. 

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