Priorities for Congress: September 2019

It’s a busy week politically, and action is necessary to maintain Congressional focus on homelessness.

The Senate Appropriations Committee will be “marking up” their version of a spending bill for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) this week. The plan is for the subcommittee to meet this Tuesday to make some preliminary determinations, then for a final bill to be circulated to the full committee on Thursday for a vote. Markup is always one of the most important moments for advocacy; the Alliance has tools to help, available at this link.

After markup, the House and Senate will work to agree on a single final amount for each account – the “conference agreement.” HUD spending discussions will then become wrapped up with controversies around a range of other nondefense spending issues, like walls at the border or health care. It looks like those conversations will happen just before Thanksgiving at the very earliest, and quite possibly later (with or without a government shutdown). The Alliance will closely monitor how these funding propositions are proceeding, and make sure advocates know when key opportunities for advocacy are approaching.

Changes From Last Year’s Process

The Alliance is pushing for a bigger increase in HUD funding this year: $346 million, to bring the entire account up to $3 billion. This is justified both by the good work that people in the field do with the money, and by the rapidly increasing need in many places.

Unfortunately, people who want HUD to spend less are pushing a narrative that nobody knows what to do about homelessness, so we shouldn’t spend money on it. To those who work in the field, this idea may sound ridiculous, but to people who know less about it (especially members of Congress), it’s not implausible.

Advocates should make it very clear: We do indeed know how to solve this problem, including the role of the homelessness programs in finding people who are homeless, keeping them safe, and helping them get quickly back into housing. The main thing holding us back is insufficient funding.

The other thing different this year is that a rising number of communities are seeing homelessness getting worse. Housing markets have become tighter, and there’s inadequate federal response in terms of funding housing for people with low incomes, and in growing homelessness programs to meet the resulting need.

Contacting Your Elected Officials

One of the things our heroes on the Hill stress to us is how helpful it is to hear from constituents. Your position on homelessness will help them advocate with their colleagues. It will also help them, when the time comes to make difficult priority choices, to feel confident that prioritizing homeless assistance is the right thing to do, no matter their party. Homelessness has been an issue that crosses party and ideological lines for three simple reasons:

  • Everyone agrees that homelessness impacts people with severe vulnerabilities, including people with disabilities, young children, and people who have been cut adrift by economic changes
  • The interventions are proven impactful and cost-effective
  • The work to end homelessness helps and is backed by the entire community, including business leaders, elected officials of both parties, and religious leaders

Any elected official wants to be associated with good things that are happening in their community. If you’re doing good work, your Representative and Senators will want to find a way to help, especially if the ask is doable. In the context of the entire federal budget, $3 billion a year for homelessness programs is a small amount, and will improve communities for everyone.

The Alliance has advocacy tools for writing your Senators available on our website. If you are interested in other opportunities to advocate, please get in touch with us about developing effective relationships with your elected officials.