The Obama Administration just released its last federal budget proposal, for fiscal year 2017 (which starts October 1, 2016). Among other things, this budget request, more than any in recent years, articulates a broad and aggressive federal response to poverty and inequality in the United States. It puts housing at the center of that response, recognizing and remedying how housing crises, especially homelessness, make it nearly impossible for people to move ahead.
Perhaps the single most awe-inspiring proposal in this regard is the Administration’s Homeless Assistance for Families proposal, to provide over $1 billion a year for the next ten years for rapid re-housing and permanent housing for homeless families with children. If enacted by Congress, Homeless Assistance for Families would give communities exactly what they need to end homelessness for families with children, once and for all. It would provide funding for housing interventions that have proven to end homelessness in a cost-effective manner, but that have never been funded adequately.
The benefit to these children is obvious – by allowing them to quickly escape the trauma of homelessness, it gives them a fighting chance to succeed in life, and allows their parents to provide what their children need, both financially and in terms of support and nurturance. Benefits to taxpayers are equally robust – eliminating the need for expensive homeless shelters, and the long-term costs of the children’s trauma.
A game-changing feature of the Homeless Assistance for Families proposal is that it would be considered “mandatory spending,” a category of federal spending that ensures longer term commitments and reliable help for families and communities. Other mandatory spending programs, like Social Security and Medicare, have had long-term financial stability and are supported by the vast majority of Americans. Funding for housing programs for low-income Americans has in the past been “discretionary spending” instead, requiring a fight in the Appropriations process every year to keep the programs funded. By changing that paradigm, this proposal would increase the likelihood that the goal of ending homelessness for America’s families will be met.
In addition to Homeless Assistance for Families, the budget includes other important proposals for homeless programs. Most notably, it would increase funding for HUDs “regular” homeless assistance programs (ESG and the Continuum of Care) by $415 million, allowing substantial increases for permanent supportive housing, rapid rehousing, and local system-wide improvements. This, of course, is discretionary spending, so people should remember, “requiring a fight in the Appropriations process” – fortunately, this community has gotten pretty good at this kind of fight!
There are many other proposals that we support, some of which will be discussed in our federal budget webinar on Thursday, February 11, as well as in this blog in the coming weeks.
While the President’s budget is always “just” a proposal, and while the actual spending levels are up to Congress to enact, the budget request is important. It shows the agencies’ thinking about the details of how much money programs need in order to accomplish their missions. And this budget in particular raises big issues and invites Congress to address them. We intend to challenge Congress to enact as much of it this year and in future years as is possible. We also intend to use the budget proposal throughout the year as an inspiration and an expression of support for the great work that people in this community do every day.