Earlier this week President Obama released his proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2016, which begins Oct. 1, 2015. The proposal includes strong measures to help communities re-house homeless people and prevent people who are at-risk from becoming homeless. As has become typical over the past several years, however, grave disagreement between the administration and Congress over larger budget issues means a lot of uncertainty for the future of homeless programs. The President’s budget presents a feasible best-case-scenario for progress on homelessness. (The worst-case-scenario is decidedly grimmer.) It’s based on some commonsense assumptions about homelessness:
- Homelessness hits the most vulnerable Americans.
- It will take investment in effective solutions to bring the numbers down.
- Investing in homeless programs is worth it, because they have consistently shown that they can achieve measurable results.
The President’s budget proposal would act on those assumptions with three targeted homelessness measures. It would:
- Increase funding for homeless programs under the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by $345 million. This measure would ensure that homeless programs maintain their existing capacity; as well as provide funding for approximately 25,500 new permanent supportive housing beds for people experiencing chronic homelessness, and fund rapid re-housing for an additional 15,000 families.
Increase Section 8 Tenant-Based rental assistance. This would make up for the housing vouchers lost through underfunding due to sequestration in FY 2013 by funding an additional 67,000 Section 8 vouchers. Among them would be:
- 22,500 vouchers for people who are homeless, or victims of domestic violence, which would be distributed through a competition.
- 5,000 vouchers that would target youth at risk of homelessness who are leaving foster care, which would be distributed through the Family Unification Program.
Maintain resources for ending veteran homelessness. Department of Veterans Affairs programs are already funded at the level necessary to end veteran homelessness. The President’s budget would maintain those funding levels. In addition, the new Section 8 resources described above would allow communities to house homeless veterans who do not meet the eligibility criteria for the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program due to their discharge status or length of service.
The budget proposal contains a number of other positive proposals that focus on poverty, including measures designed to care for poor children, assist low-income people compete for jobs, and increase incomes for poor people. In general, it is a positive proposal for low-income people.
At this point in time, the President’s budget request is purely hypothetical, because it requires that Congress pass legislation to lift the spending caps imposed by the sequestration provisions in the Budget Control Act of 2011. But it shows what we can accomplish if we replace sequestration with a more balanced approach. An alternative that would balance the budget by leaving homeless people on the streets would be short-sighted and unethical, not to mention a losing proposition, given how much it would cost taxpayers in social services and emergency care.
Since Republicans retook control of the Senate in last fall’s Congressional election, the new leaders in Congress have said that they want to make big changes, so big changes will be on the agenda. Will they make the right decisions? It depends on what they hear from people like you, homeless advocates and community leaders who understand what the impacts on our communities will be.
For Congress to get this right, it will be essential that people like you share this information with your elected Representatives and Senators. Get involved. Invite members of Congress to see your programs. Meet with them and talk about what your community is doing. And please always stay in touch with us. If you’re advocating for ending homelessness, we’re here to help.