Thank You, Advocates! You Generated Strong Congressional Support for Homeless Programs

If you receive the Alliance’s advocacy alerts, you might recall that not long ago members of Congress were circulating “Dear Colleague” letters in the House and Senate.

These letters give members of Congress the opportunity to sign on in support of robust funding levels for programs that they believe should be national priorities. The "Dear Colleague" letters circulating in congress that were of most interest to us, of course, were letters in support of increased funding levels for homeless assistance and affordable housing programs.

The letters were circulating during a critical period of the federal funding cycle. Ahead of drafting funding bills for federal agencies, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees were accepting “programmatic requests” from members of Congress. (Programmatic requests are requests to fund certain programs at certain funding levels.)

The letters were addressed to the Appropriations Committees, so signing on to them provided an easy way for members to request specific funding levels for homeless assistance and affordable housing programs. The more members who signed on to them, the stronger the show of congressional support that appropriators would see for these programs.

This year, we launched a letter-writing campaign that urged advocates to ask their members of Congress to sign on to two of these "Dear Colleague" letters:

  • A letter circulated by Rep. Gwen Moore in the House, in support of providing the Obama administration’s requested funding level of $2.480 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants in fiscal year (FY) 2016; and
  • A letter circulated by Senators Jeff Merkley and Kirsten Gillibrand in the Senate in support of increased McKinney funding and $21.1 billion for the Section 8 Tenant-Based Rental Assistance (TBRA) program, including targeted vouchers for populations experiencing homelessness.

In just eight days, advocates throughout the country engaged in 250 advocacy actions. They wrote letters, sent emails, called their congressional offices, and distributed action alerts among their own networks to enlist them in the campaign. We cannot thank our advocates enough for pitching in!

What was the result? The House Dear Colleague Letter, circulated by Rep. Gwen Moore, received 111 signatures, 22 more than last year’s record-breaking number! In this tight budget environment and relatively conservative Congress, that is no small feat.

This is an impressive show of support, particularly considering that many members of Congress did not sign Rep. Moore’s letter since it would be a duplicative request. (At the time, 14 additional representatives were either circulating or had signed on to other letters in support of this $2.480 billion funding level for McKinney.)

In all, more than 28 percent of members of the House signed on to letters in support of the $2.480 billion funding level for McKinney in FY 2016. It is worth noting that Rep. Moore’s letter included three Republican signers: Representatives Hanna (NY-22), Gibson (NY-19), and Fitzpatrick (PA-8), thanks to the hard work of New York and Pennsylvania advocates.

The Senate Dear Colleague Letter, circulated by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), received 23 signatures. Although it received the support of five fewer signers than last year’s Senate Dear Colleague letter in support of McKinney, this marked the first time in recent years that a Dear Colleague letter in the Senate has included a requested increase for Section 8 TBRA.

Again, THANK YOU to everyone who contributed to this important effort! We could not have achieved these results without advocates like you who went out of their way to tell their congressional offices how important it is to their constituents that they sign on to these letters.

Achieving such a strong showing of congressional support for these programs is a fantastic start to the FY 2016 federal funding process, and we look forward to our continued work with you this year to achieve our goals of increasing funding for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants and Section 8 TBRA programs!