The proposal includes important new initiatives that illuminate the beginnings of a path toward substantially less homelessness in the long run. Unfortunately, the short-term proposal for the largest targeted homelessness account is not adequate, so the Alliance will be advocating with Congress for more funding, and will be counting on bipartisan support.
Why is the President’s Budget Important?
In a divided government, the President’s budget does two things. It highlights differences between the parties, often by making ambitious proposals that will be characterized as “dead on arrival” but that can build support for future progress.
The other function is more mundane, but often more impactful: the President’s budget lays out recommended funding levels for existing programs. It provides important information to Congress about the practical necessities to carry out the federal government’s functions in a manner that will attract bipartisan support (at least on the Appropriations Committees) in order to produce final legislation for the part of the federal government funded with “discretionary” spending (i.e., through the appropriations process).
How the Budget Impacts Homelessness
One proposal in the budget is to create a “mandatory” funding item for Housing Choice Vouchers for everyone who’s eligible within two categories: veterans with “Extremely Low Income” (broadly, below 30 percent of the median income in their geographic area); and young adults who have recently aged out of the child welfare system.
This is a belated step toward the universal voucher entitlement that was part of President Biden’s 2020 campaign platform. Its limitation to these two specific populations makes it a small step, and one that may play into a “deserving poor” mindset that makes universal vouchers harder to ultimately achieve. On the other hand, these are groups that are notoriously in danger of homelessness. And it may not be “dead on arrival” if the consistent bipartisan support for HUD-VASH – and the standing ovation from both sides of the aisle when the President in his State of the Union address mentioned helping veterans afford their rent so that they aren’t homeless– are any indication.
The calls for less government spending by some in the Republican party makes it hard to imagine that a new federal voucher program would receive Congressional support in a divided Congress, but we’ll see if it begins to move.
How the Appropriations Process Impacts Homelessness Funding
Another process filled with uncertainty this year is the regular appropriations process, due to partisan conflicts over domestic spending, exacerbated by the impending collision with the federal debt ceiling. So what’s doable for any discretionary spending item, even a relatively small one like HUD’s Homeless Assistance account, is still unknown. The Alliance, in that context, is advocating for what these programs need, in light of rising unsheltered homelessness and a strained homeless services workforce.
What You Can Do
Congress adopted an appropriations amount for homeless assistance in last year’s FY 2023 funding bill of $3.633 billion. The Alliance is advocating for an increase of $200 million for FY 2024, which is $84 million more than the Administration’s proposal. This increase would cover renewals of existing programs (as would the Administration’s proposal) and allow for new initiatives proposed by the Administration, including additional Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project grants and expanded technical assistance for programs serving survivors of domestic violence. It would also provide funding for new programs based on local priorities, hopefully to address unsheltered homelessness, and pay for a reasonable cost-of-living increase for people working in homeless services.
Fortunately, this target has already received bipartisan support in the House of Representatives, in the form of a “Dear Colleague” letter to appropriations leadership. The letter must be sent by Tuesday, March 28, and we need people to ask their members of the House to sign onto the letter. We’ve prepared materials to make it easy to do this, you can find it here. A Senate “Dear Colleague” will be circulated later.
There’s a lot else in the budget that the Alliance will be analyzing and adding to our advocacy agenda for the year. Please let us know if you see something important!