Late last week, White House officials negotiated with Congressional Democrats over another coronavirus emergency spending bill. They ended negotiations with no agreement, said they would not schedule further meetings, and said the President would take “executive action” in the light of the lack of agreement. The President then announced several unilateral policy changes on Saturday.
None of these executive actions make funding available to keep homeless people safe, or to make fewer people homeless.
What the Executive Actions Mean
Here’s where we stand now: extension of the eviction moratoria (that applied to some rental housing, and is now expired) was left up to HUD. The supplemental unemployment benefits that have allowed millions of people to pay rent – despite job loss – have now expired. These benefits were replaced with a FEMA program that will last for six weeks before that money runs out. – assuming FEMA is able to get it up and running, and states are able to find money for their new matching requirement.
Immediate action is required, but the executive actions taken by the President are no substitute for the kind of comprehensive emergency legislation that should be passed by Congress.
In television appearances on Sunday and Monday, Administration officials had already softened their tone and expressed a willingness to include more money, and there is widespread expectation that a deal for a coronavirus relief bill will eventually be negotiated, perhaps over the next month, perhaps sooner. Nothing is certain; negotiations could completely fall through, but these recent events indicate that enough different people in positions of power want a bill that’s likely to pass.
What Congress Needs to Do – and What Advocates Can Do for Them
Homeless people, of course, need help to stay safe and get housing. Millions more people are at risk of becoming homelessness. At the Alliance we’ve been working with people from around the country to make real help available. In terms of funding from Congress, what we need to deal with the pandemic is the three things we’ve talked about for months: $11.5 billion in ESG for people who are homeless; $10 billion in voucher funding for homeless people who are in danger from covid and due to age and disability need a permanent rent subsidy immediately; and $100 billion in rental assistance for people in danger of losing their housing.
And Congress needs to hear these things from you, their constituents, right now – regardless of whether you advocate regularly or not.
I often hear two things from people about why they don’t talk to their Congressional offices. The first is that their member is already completely supportive. That’s excellent! The thing to remember, though, is that in this case, the final deal is likely to be for substantially less money that is desired. Supportive members of Congress will have to make tough priority decisions about what they’re going to support. If you want them to prioritize homelessness, you need to tell them, and give them the reasons why.
The other thing I hear is that the Member is so unsupportive that it’s not worthwhile. Our experience over the years, though, is that even the most reluctant Members get that homelessness is bad for the entire community they represent, and that homelessness systems are focused on approaches that work to supply vulnerable people with what they absolutely need.
What Communities Can Do Right Now
Here’s what we need to do in light of developments over the past few days:
- Take care of homeless people now – There are still communities that don’t have grant agreements in place for the homelessness funding from the CARES Act. Homeless people need the help, homelessness is a major driver of racial inequity, and it’s hard to persuade Congress that more funding is needed when what they’ve already provided has only just started to be spent. If HUD is the holdup, please let us know. Your local Member of Congress should be able to help.
- Document what your community needs – “What will you do with more money” should be a question with a ready answer from each community. The Framework for an Equitable COVID-19 Homelessness Response that the Alliance and its national partners created should provide a way to think about what’s needed and what’s still missing when strategizing CARES Act funds. Building partnerships with organizations and institutions trusted by people of color, health-focused street outreach, safe shelter (particularly noncongregate shelter), and rapid re-housing at scale are important aspects in most communities. Stopping a potential tsunami of evictions is another big step.
- Build alliances – Homelessness affects entire communities, and we’ve often found that a broad range of people in communities will get together behind work to end it. Including several different types of community organizations in these efforts will be most effective, and set communities up for stronger partnerships in the future.
- Be in touch with elected officials – Members of Congress will all have some influence on whether another coronavirus emergency bill passes, and what’s in it. The first step is to use the Alliance’s platform to send emails making this point. The next step is to build relationships with your Members and their key staff people. Alliance staff are here to help with that! Email us if you want to learn more (Jerry Jones, National Field Director, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Why It Matters
The work of ending homelessness requires a collective effort, and you can be part of it – you need to be part of it. We can’t take any communication with Congress for granted at this point – not when the lives of people experiencing homelessness are at stake.
Everyone needs to do their part. Taking action and communicating with elected officials is the most efficient thing we can do to serve people without homes during the pandemic. There is likely to be a long push now over what the next federal response to the pandemic will be. Please stay safe, and be in touch with the Alliance so that we can work together to be as effective as possible in getting the resources we need.