Will Congress Make Ending Homelessness a Priority? Here’s What We Know

Communities across the nation are working to end homelessness – but they can’t do it without federal dollars. That’s why the Alliance is watching closely as the federal budget process unrolls for the 2019 fiscal year (FY).

Congress has reached a point in the budget process when there’s usually time to take a breath. This post will give a brief run-down of where we are in the FY 2019 process, our educated guesses on what the rest of the process will look like, and an overview of upcoming advocacy opportunities.

Want to learn more about the Alliance’s policy priorities? Join us for a webinar on Thursday, July 12.

Engaging Your Elected Officials: What You Can Do to Help End Homelessness

Update on HUD Spending Bills

Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees — the committees tasked with deciding how much money the federal government spends on homelessness programs — have developed bills that would set spending levels for HUD programs for FY 2019 (which starts October 1, 2018). The two houses will ultimately have to work together to come up with matching bills before they become law.

As expected, both bills include modest increases for HUD, largely aimed at maintaining existing program capacity in light of nationwide rent increases. They also provide for some new initiatives, including those related to homelessness.

Overall, the Senate bill has more funding for the most important programs (including Homelessness Assistance, Tenant-Based Rental Assistance, and Public Housing). However, the House bill includes worthwhile investments that are not in the Senate bill (such as more rapid re-housing funds for people experiencing unsheltered homelessness, increases for the Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS program, and vouchers for people with disabilities).

Both bills include new or increased investments for: rapid re-housing and improved coordinated entry for survivors of domestic violence; data analysis; and HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers.

For other larger programs, the House and Senate bills are generally similar and consistent with the previous year’s funding.

Of note, Veterans’ homeless programs are well supported in the House and Senate bills. However, the bills for Departments of Education, Labor, and HHS have not yet been produced.

What’s Next

For advocates, the next important step is when the House and Senate Appropriations Committees start work on a compromise bill that can pass both chambers. This starts with the chairs of both full Committees agreeing on how much money each subcommittee will get in the final version.

Once they make that decision, the subcommittees negotiate the final deal, sometimes in only a few days, often as part of a bill combining the work of several (or all) Appropriations subcommittees. This could happen before Congress breaks for the election, although history is not on the side of that; the last time Congress finished appropriations bills in an election year before the election was 1998.

What it Means

Congress makes its funding decisions partially based on what they think their constituents care about.

This year is another opportunity to make sure Congress knows that housing and homelessness programs are priorities and that they require appropriate funding. We will need a steady drumbeat of support, and we’ll need it until a final decision is made, whether that is October, December, or early next year.

This summer is the time to get that process started. We will of course be prioritizing HUD and other homelessness spending as part of Hill Day at our national conference next month. We also recommend that the August recess is an ideal time to invite Members of Congress to visit homeless programs and to meet with constituents informed on homelessness.

From there, we’ll kick it into the next gear. Beginning in early September, the Alliance will coordinate a series of advocacy opportunities that people can participate in. Keep an eye open for our emails, and please be ready to tell your Member of Congress that they can help end homelessness.