I am so happy to be seeing a bunch of you at our conference! Congress is still closed for a lot of group meetings, so we won’t have the usual Capitol Hill Day as part of the conference, but the Alliance is planning several upcoming advocacy pushes to keep a solid drumbeat going for good funding for homelessness and housing. And the time is soon approaching where we’ll need a lot of advocates to raise their voices!
What Can Annual Appropriations/Spending Do?
The most important item left on Congress’s active agenda related to homelessness is the annual funding bills for Fiscal Year 2023. In those bills, the Alliance is focusing on funding for two accounts at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): the Homeless Assistance Grants that fund the Continuum of Care and Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) programs; and Tenant-Based Rental Assistance that funds the Housing Choice Voucher (“Section 8”) program.
Most federal spending (including all targeted homelessness programs) is decided through annual “appropriations” or “discretionary spending” bills that spell out what each program will get. None of these bills are finalized yet – which is why advocacy in this stage is so important!
After lots of hearings and preliminary votes, the process of real decision-making starts with a House/Senate agreement about how much money is allocated overall, and how much is allocated for each appropriations subcommittee (including the ones that work on homelessness). These bills require 60 votes to pass the Senate, so some level of bipartisan agreement is required – something that has not yet been forthcoming.
It’s an election year for Congress, and polls show there’s a chance the majority party will change in the House, and maybe the Senate. In years like that, the current Senate minority will often refuse to agree on overall spending levels. This slows the process down and pushes it into the new year, when that hope to have a majority and more ability to shape final spending bills to match their priorities. Even so, behind closed doors decisions will be made on many programs. But this slow process has very real implications on how much money communities receive to end homelessness.
Why Advocacy Matters Now
In those circumstances, it’s important to have a steady drumbeat of advocacy going – especially from people who are closest to the issue (like homeless service providers, people with lived experience, and people who run homeless service systems). Decision-makers are coming to conclusions about which programs need increases, which programs are fine the way they are, and which can be cut to make room for other priorities. We need to make the case now and repeatedly until final decisions are made: homelessness and housing programs need more money.
- Rents are going up. Much of the Homeless Assistance account, and nearly all of the TBRA account, pays rent for people who are housed now. There’s always been a strong commitment in Congress that people in federally subsidized permanent housing won’t lose their housing because of underfunding. Congress needs to keep and act on that commitment.
- Homelessness is a growing problem. Public attention and anger about homelessness has increased, as has awareness that the basic cause is the lack of affordable housing. HUD programs haven’t been funded enough to do anywhere near the entire job they’re supposed to do. They need to do more – but can only do that with more funding from Congress.
- The programs work. The majority of Congressional offices understand this, even if some have thought that there’s some political advantage of calling homelessness programs’ effectiveness into question. It’s important to stress the accomplishments, though. That’s the reason there’s still too much homelessness: largely because good programs have never been funded to scale.
There are, of course, many other items in the appropriations bills, both housing programs at HUD and the useful targeted and mainstream programs at other federal departments: Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor, Education, Veterans Affairs, the Department of Justice, FEMA, and elsewhere. The Alliance will be watching and talking about these bills constantly, and invite anyone who is concerned about these programs to be in touch.
Big, One-Time Spending Bills
After the important financial help communities received from COVID-related emergency spending bills, there was hope that there would be one more such bill based on the President’s Build Back Better proposal, and that it would include additional housing investments. It is now clear that there is inadequate support in Congress for this. Something smaller may happen and we will be in touch if it does.
A number of Congressional offices have put together bills to adjust federal policy related to homelessness. These bills include additional flexibility in rural areas, better targeting of the HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program, eligibility of safe parking programs for federal funds, and a number of others. While extensive grassroots advocacy is not necessary at this time, I encourage people to watch the Alliance’s weekly publications and sign up for advocacy alerts. It often happens that constituents of one or two Members of Congress can have a big impact if they reach out at the right time.
Thanks to everyone for everything you do! Keep up the good work in your communities, and please be in touch if you’d like to get more involved in the Alliance’s advocacy efforts.