Can We Do Better than a $40 Million Increase in Funding for Homeless Assistance?

written by Kate Seif
June 11, 2014

Congressional appropriations (the official word for “funding”) season is in full swing and both Chambers are making significant progress on writing and passing funding legislation for fiscal year (FY) 2015. It’s great news that things are moving forward. In fact, the full House has already passed a couple funding bills already and the Senate is close behind. Those of you that follow this process annually with rapt attention know that this is possibly a bigger deal than it sounds.

But what about those bills? Are they any good? Can we do anything about it at this point? The short answers: Not really and absolutely!

The House Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding bill – the legislation that includes proposed funding for programs like McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants, Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, Public Housing and many more low-income housing programs – was not so great. Avid readers of our weekly Hill Update probably saw the numbers: flat funding and some cuts. More specifically, the House flat funded McKinney programs as compared to last year. To put that in perspective, the Administration proposed a $300 million increase, and the House wrote legislation that proposed a $0 increase.

Those of us who experienced the chilling Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) of 2013 (sequestration cuts and tiering) know that flat funding, or very minimal additional funding, may lead to cuts in the next NOFA and communities further reducing the capacity of their homeless assistance systems. For more analysis on the House bill, you can check out a recent blog post.

On the other side of the Capitol Complex, the Senate actually put a bill out that wasn’t that much different. You can see the specific details in another handy-dandy Hill Update, but again, the most relevant bit of information is that the full Senate Appropriations Committee proposed a $45 million increase - $255 million less than the Administration proposed. The full Senate is expected to take the legislation up soon.

So, will a $40 million increase to McKinney be our best-case scenario? Hopefully not. Even though both the Senate and House are very close to passing the HUD funding legislation, there’s still a long way to go. Next, the two Chambers will “conference” the legislation (work out the differences) and figure out what the final funding levels should be for HUD programs, and really all programs within the federal government. This is very unlikely to happen before the November elections, which means there’s plenty of time to pound the drum for more McKinney funding. It’s not a guarantee that the Appropriators will go with flat funding or the $40 million increase; conferencing the legislation opens up a whole range of possibilities to make improvements.

The key, of course, is that Members of Congress, from all Committees in both the House and Senate, need to push to make this a reality. And they’ll do that only if they hear from their constituents about the need for increased funding for McKinney programs. This will be an uphill battle, and will involve a lot of outreach and advocacy over the coming months; however, it is doable. Connect with our McKinney campaign if you haven’t already get involved and make sure that regardless of this Congress’s financial difficulties, we will not have to reduce services for our nation’s most vulnerable people.