This will go down as one of the craziest years in history, and it’s only half over. For people who are homeless, and for many others in danger of losing their housing, the next few weeks will be critically important.
In fact, Congress is making decisions about two very important sets of funds right now. The first is the next round of COVID-19 relief funds. The second – believe it or not – are the first stages of appropriations for HUD funding for next year’s federal budget.
They’re happening at the same time this year – which is a little confusing and inconvenient, but that’s hardly new for any of us these days. Both sets of funds will enable communities to respond to urgent needs. Your advocacy throughout this entire month, both on COVID and FY2021 funding, will be incredibly important factors to ensure each piece of funding gets through.
Just this morning, the House Appropriations Subcommittee with jurisdiction over HUD spending kicked off the 2021 process by posting its draft bill, ahead of a meeting tomorrow. The draft included strong numbers for our priorities, testament to great advocacy work by all of you through the first half of the year. More on that in a minute, since the COVID relief bill is likely to be finished first.
Right now, the need for a major influx of COVID-19 relief funds is desperate. People living on the streets and in shelters are in danger of contracting and dying from COVID-19. The conditions that are associated with the worst outcomes (age, respiratory disease, immune system weaknesses) are common among homeless people.
Many communities have begun to put solutions in place, getting people into housing faster and using hotels as non–congregate shelters. But the scale is not sufficient, and solutions to the short-term problem only leave the long-term problem more daunting. We have the know-how, but it will take more funding to apply it to scale.
Meanwhile, the economic downturn and job loss produced by the coronavirus leaves millions without money to pay rent. Evictions are already mounting, with Black people disproportionately affected; already-widening racial disparities are at threat of becoming worse. How many more people will be at risk of homelessness depends on whether funding to help pay rent is available.
It now appears very likely that Congress will pass another large coronavirus emergency spending bill by early August. If the country wants to go forward, not backward, on homelessness, Congress needs to step up, and we need to tell them how.
The Alliance has worked with national and local partners to develop a homelessness agenda for the upcoming emergency spending bill, which includes substantial funding to deal with the immediate COVID-19 crisis. Everyone can help make attaining these funds more likely by using the tools on the Take Action page on the Alliance’s website to urge your Representatives and Senators to prioritize this funding.
People who want to do more, by building relationships with Congressional offices and getting others in your community to help, should email the Alliance’s Congressional Relations and Grassroots Outreach staff (firstname.lastname@example.org, and email@example.com). We need to push Congress for funding now, and they need to hear about this urgency from their constituents.
Planning for 2021
At the same time that Congress is working on this emergency bill, the applicable committees are moving forward with their regular spending bills for fiscal year 2021. Although the amounts of money won’t be as exciting, increases here will have a larger long-term effect, by increasing baseline amounts for years to come. The regular spending bills also provide a better opportunity to adopt longer term increases, such as for permanent supportive housing.
The bill released in the House this morning included an increase in Homeless Assistance of more than $600 million, an unprecedented increase. The Alliance will be watching the progress of these bills, beginning with this week’s action in the House subcommittee, and reaching out to you on occasion when immediate action is necessary, including, perhaps, in the coming weeks.
For both the emergency COVID spending bill and the regular FY 2021 bill, the message is the same: homelessness is not something we should tolerate. We know how to end it. There is widespread support to bring these solutions to scale. What we are facing in the pandemic makes that message clearer.
Our elected officials can be part of the solution. Together, we’ll get it done.