What’s Next In Congress?

After an intense first three months, Congress is in a two-week recess. When they return, they’ll face an April 28 deadline to keep the government funded and open. Below is a run-down of the items that will or may be on Congress’s upcoming agenda that could have an impact on work to end homelessness.

Here is what’s coming up now, and what you can do.

Congress must pass FY 2017 spending legislation by April 28, or the government will shut down.

Congress must pass FY 2017 spending legislation by April 28, or the government will shut down. House and Senate negotiators have already agreed on spending levels for most line items. They are keeping the amounts secret, but the broad outlines have been widely reported: overall non-defense spending will be $518.5 billion, $15 billion above the “sequestration” funding limits that were in the Budget Control Act of 2011. The Senate and House will seek to pass a bill based on that total by April 28, but may extend the deadline a few days if necessary to keep the government open while Congress finishes up this work.

The biggest unknown is how President Trump will respond. The President previously released a “skinny budget” outline, which included cuts to HUD programs that provide homelessness assistance. If Congress does not include the cuts outlined in the President’s “skinny budget,” he would have the option of vetoing the spending bill. Congress could override a veto and avoid a government shutdown if it has the support of more than two-thirds of the House and Senate, but in this case, it is anything but a sure thing.

What can you do?
It is important for advocates to continue talking about the increases we need to get homeless people off the streets. The Alliance has put together a set of tools for people to use to reach out to their Representatives and Senators during the Congressional recess from now until April 24. This is an excellent opportunity to make this point through site visits, in-district meetings, or public events.

Tax reform could hurt housing for low-income people, or it could improve it.

There are no recent developments so what I said about tax reform and housing back in December still stands – Watch for changes in the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, and in the Mortgage Interest Deduction.

An infrastructure bill could include investment in housing for low-income people.

The Administration and leaders in Congress are still talking about a bill to fund infrastructure projects. Infrastructure, in this context, refers to facilities that are necessary for the economy to function well but are not produced by the normal operation of the economy. Housing for low-wage workers and their families definitely fits within this idea, and HUD Secretary Carson recently said that the Administration’s infrastructure proposal will include housing. An infrastructure package would almost certainly require bipartisan support. It may provide opportunities for more investment in housing for Americans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

What can you do?
Bring up housing in all your meetings! While we don’t know the details about proposed infrastructure bills, we do know that we need more affordable housing. Continue to raise your voice at community events and let your elected officials know that prioritizing affordable housing is another solution to homelessness.

Congress will make decisions on FY 2018 spending.

Congress will decide whether to increase or decrease spending for HUD and other “discretionary” spending for FY 2018. Under current law, overall discretionary spending for FY 2018 will be back to sequestration levels, producing big cuts in capacity for HUD programs. The Trump Administration’s “skinny budget” would make things worse by cutting nondefense spending by $54 billion, an 11 percent cut. On the other hand, Congress could make another budget deal to loosen the sequestration caps.

What can you do?
Alert members of Congress to the important impact that HUD, VA, HHS, Education, and other federal programs have in your community. As decision making progresses, there will be more to say, so please stay tuned.

The FY18 budget could result in broad overhauls in entitlement programs.

The discussion about funding above has all been about “discretionary” spending, the kinds of programs where Congress determines the amount every year through the appropriations process. There is a second kind, “mandatory” spending, where funding levels are set either by a formula or according to an amount that is written into regular legislation, often for more than one year at a time. For non-defense programs, mandatory spending is about five times as much as discretionary spending. It includes Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), SNAPS (food stamps), and other large programs. Congress could make broad overhauls in its FY 2018 budget legislation to reduce mandatory spending.

The biggest concern is either a block grant or a “per capita cap” of Medicaid — cutting spending and leaving implementation up to states. Since Medicaid is a lifeline for many people experiencing homeless, these proposals could seriously decrease the number of homeless people Medicaid could serve. Changes to Medicaid financing were on the table as part of the health care overhaul that Congress abandoned last month, but they may reappear as part of the FY 2018 budget process.

What can you do?
Stay informed! As was the case with Medicaid changes in the health care discussion, substantial reductions in any of these programs will be opposed by a range of organizations concerned about poverty more generally, and there will be ample information about how to help.

This is a lot to keep track of! Please keep in touch with us to make sure you’re up on the latest developments and know how to help.