Advocacy Accomplishments in 2013 (Against the Odds)

written by Julie Klein
January 6, 2014

The first session of the 113th Congress, characterized by gridlock and dysfunction, bears the unfortunate distinction of being the least productive session of Congress in modern times in terms of legislative output.

Clearly, 2013 was a challenging year, though that did not keep homeless advocates across the country from drawing attention to the need for increased federal funding for vital homeless assistance programs in their communities. As we begin the New Year, we would like to take this chance to reflect back on many of the accomplishments of our advocates in 2013, which are particularly impressive in light of the unique challenges they faced.

Last year was atypical from the get-go, with a New Year’s morning Senate vote on the deal that averted the so-called ‘fiscal cliff.’ Once this large budgetary hurdle was behind us, various others arose throughout the year, including:

  • Sequestration, which took effect on March 1;
  • The inability of both chambers of Congress to pass any of the 12 FY 2014 appropriations bills prior to the start of the fiscal year. (Among those bills was the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) bill, which funds virtually all homeless assistance programs.);
  • A 16-day partial federal government shutdown in October;
  • And the decision to temporarily fund the government through yet another continuing resolution (CR).

Advocates perseverance despite these obstacles has truly been remarkable. In 2013, advocates engaged in more than 1,200 advocacy actions (that we know about), such as sending emails, arranging site visits, and organizing meetings. Approximately 90 percent of these actions supported increasing funding for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program.

The momentum of many of these efforts picked up in April, with the Alliance’s release of The State of Homelessness in America 2013 report as well as the launch of our FY 2014 McKinney-Vento and veterans funding campaigns in conjunction with the release of the President’s FY 2014 Budget Proposal. Here are a few highlights of the year’s advocacy successes:

  • Advocates convinced many Members of Congress in the House and Senate to sign-on to letters that supported increased FY 2014 funding for homeless assistance programs.
  • Many advocates added their organizations names to an organizational sign-on letter that was circulated by the Alliance and its partners and sent to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees in support of a higher funding allocation for T-HUD.
  • Advocates also conducted a highly successful letter-writing campaign, in which more than 680 letters were sent to Members of Congress in just two weeks during the lead-up to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees’ T-HUD bill markups.
  • Advocates efforts throughout the year resulted in a $30 million increase for McKinney in finalized FY 2013 appropriations (after sequestration cuts!).

Although FY 2014 appropriations have not yet been finalized, it is clear that their message was well received throughout the lengthy process. They have increased public and congressional bipartisan support for homeless assistance programs on many occasions during a year marked by a dire lack of common ground.

For instance, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), Ranking Member of the Senate T-HUD Subcommittee, positively referenced the aforementioned organizational sign-on letter on the Senate floor in July. She even quoted parts of the letter explaining that the T-HUD bill would reduce homelessness and housing hardships and address the housing needs of homeless veterans.

At  the Alliance’s 2013 National Conference on Ending Homelessness in July, Alliance President and CEO Nan Roman urged advocates in attendance to let their “delegates know that homeless people have tremendous needs, but that the problem is solvable and that you are prepared and have the skills to end homelessness, if only they will do their part.”

And advocates did just that by capitalizing on the opportunity of Capitol Hill Day 2013, which we held in conjunction with that conference. That day volunteers serving as State Captains organized an unprecedented 300 plus congressional meetings, and more than 418 participants visited the congressional offices of 45 different states. (It is worthwhile to note that the aforementioned 1,200 advocacy actions taken in 2013 do NOT include these actions taken in conjunction with Capitol Hill Dill 2013).

In looking back on all the hard work on the part of our advocates and the positive reception of their message, it appears that the instances in which advocates did not achieve their desired outcomes last year were due to larger budget difficulties that were ultimately beyond their control.

However, there is a silver lining: the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, which President Obama signed into law on Thursday, December 26, sets topline spending levels for FY 2014 and FY 2015 spending and distributes sequestration relief evenly between defense and non-defense discretionary programs.

Having these topline numbers gives us hope that things in Washington may eventually return to more of a ‘regular order,’  where Members of Congress make funding decisions on a program-by-program (rather than larger, macro-budgetary) level, which plays to the advantage of effective programs like McKinney. (You can expect more to come on that in another blog post soon).

For now, advocates, please give yourselves a pat on the back for all you have achieved this year, and know that your efforts to end homelessness have in fact paid off! Thanks to all of your hard work, homeless assistance programs have repeatedly shined through the jumble of programs vying for congressional support - and have achieved bipartisan support, no less, in a year during which finding areas of agreement among the largely divergent priorities of a divided Congress has proved to be no easy task.  

We at the Alliance could not do this work without your help! On behalf of the Alliance’s mobilizing unit, I would like to say that we are incredibly grateful for all of the time and effort you contributed last year. We truly cannot thank you enough, and we look forward to continuing our work with you in 2014.