This week the House Appropriations Committee released its draft spending bill for Fiscal Year 2018. As the appropriations process continues, details will be revised, but here are some things to note regarding programs that focus on Americans with the lowest incomes:
This bill is based on spending caps that return to very low “sequestration” levels, then go lower.
The Budget Control Act from 2011 set overall spending caps for each year for a range of federal programs, referred to as “sequestration” caps. For the last four years the caps have been raised, two years at a time, by bipartisan, short-term budget deals. This year, the last short-term deal expired, leaving the Appropriations Committee with less money than last year for non-defense agencies. In a context of rapidly increasing costs in a number of areas, including rising rents for HUD’s rental assistance programs, these cuts represent an even steeper budget shortfall.
Proposed spending for homeless assistance is level, which allows for programs to maintain capacity, but falls further behind the actual need.
Homeless Assistance would be funded at $2.383 billion, the same as in FY17. The two moderate-sized set-asides for specific purposes in FY17, however, are not in this bill, which means there would be money to pay for increased market rents, and help the same number of people. Unfortunately, the number of people who become homeless each year has been going up by about 40,000, so this funding would mean more people who are homeless and can’t get help.
Nominal increases for Section 8 don’t keep up with rent increases, so fewer people will get housed.
The amount the House bill includes for renewals of existing vouchers in the Tenant Based Rental Assistance account is an increase over FY 2017. The increase, however, is too small to keep up with rising rents. Preliminary estimates from outside groups indicate that about 140,000 fewer households will receive assistance. The subcommittee apparently believes that this loss could be handled through attrition, which is why they can say, “[t]his is adequate to continue assistance to all families and individuals currently served by these programs,” as they do in the artfully drafted statement on their website. Even if this is true, as people leave the program due to increased income, death, hospitalization or other reasons, new vouchers will not be issued.
Public housing continues to be funded below maintenance level.
One national organization of public housing officials estimates that 10,000 units of public housing are going offline each year because of underfunding maintenance, repairs and upgrades. The House bill, rather than remedying this situation, would exacerbate with by reducing public housing capital spending.
The bill is exhibit one in showing the need for a new, bipartisan budget deal to raise spending caps.
As usual, appropriations subcommittee staffers have tried to balance the need and desire for spending in various HUD programs, while staying under the caps prescribed for their bill. Ultimately, they face an impossible task. As happened two years ago and four years ago, Congress needs to make a bipartisan deal to raise spending caps, in order to take necessary steps toward improving housing conditions, and give communities the tools they need to more quickly move people out of homelessness and in to housing.
What can you do?
If you are coming to the Alliance’s conference next week, join us for our annual Capitol Hill Day. We need as many advocates as we can to send a strong message to Congress that these programs are crucial, effective, and need more funding. If you couldn’t make to our conference, that’s okay too. Be ready to call and email your Members of Congress next week, and let them know they need to raise spending caps to sufficiently fund these programs and continue the progress toward ending homelessness. We’ve made doing this easy: you can find your Member’s info right here, and use our tools to reach out to them. We will keep the talking points up to date with the most relevant information for you as an advocate. Together, we can make ending homelessness a priority in Congress.