Homeless Assistance Grants Receive Funding INCREASE!

written by Kate Seif
March 27, 2013

Last week, the House and Senate finalized a final fiscal year (FY) 2013 funding bill for all federal discretionary spending. As we read through the list of anomalies (the handful of programs that received funding increases, as opposed to the vast majority of programs that received flat funding from FY 2012), we felt mixed emotions. We were relieved and excited to see an increase for HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants and beyond thrilled at the 33 percent increase homeless assistance programs within the Department of Veterans Affairs received.  On the other hand, we were shocked and disappointed to see that following sequestration, many programs serving low-income populations would be taking a tremendous hit.

After a tumultuous (to say the least) year, well, 16 months, focusing on FY 2013 funding, here’s our assessment on the final funding levels and what they mean:

HUD homelessness funding – With the homelessness-specific programs, it’s important to be clear about two things to start:

  • HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) continues to grow each year, building on unified support.  The bill includes $75 million for new HUD-VASH vouchers, enough to house another 11,000 homeless veterans or more.  It’s important to note that these vouchers, since they serve veterans, were exempt from sequestration.
  • In light of sequestration, the Budget Control Act, the “fiscal cliff,” and debt ceiling negotiations, McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants still managed to receive a post-sequestration increase of $32 million! We cannot underestimate how big this is, and what a testament it is to the effectiveness and efficiency of these programs.

Despite this increase, as many of you know, the Homeless Assistance Grants are facing a high renewal demand for FY 2013, which, despite this increase, will result in a 4-8 percent cut in CoC funding in the next NOFA (which, it’s important to note, is not likely to be released until later this year, with the funds being granted/allocated even later). HUD understands the deleterious effects this would have on communities across the country, and as such, we are confident that they will do whatever they can to minimize the shortfall.

VA homelessness funding – I am beyond pleased to write that there is no bad news on this front. All programs within the Department of Veterans Affairs are exempt from sequestration, so the levels included in the final FY 2013 funding legislation are the final levels. On top of this, as mentioned above, VA homeless assistance programs received a 33 percent increase, with a final funding level of $1.33 billion, including $300 million for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF)! This funding level will certainly help us make great progress in the federal plan to prevent and end homelessness among veterans by 2015.

HUD Overall – The overall HUD budget continues to be severely underfunded. Particularly in the area of housing, the promise that federal budget problems will not be resolved on the backs of the poor has not come to fruition.

Amid flat funding for virtually all other HUD programs, Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers received a “contingency fund” – in other words, spending that can be used should Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) otherwise be required to terminate vouchers. There is no additional funding, however, to cover the increasing cost of maintaining existing vouchers, which is becoming an increasingly large problem for the program. In addition to the Section 8 anomaly, the Public Housing Operating Fund received funding to make up for a significant funding cut in last year’s budget.

Meanwhile, programs that received severe cuts in previous years (CDBG, HOME, and the Public Housing Capital Fund, to name a few), received across-the-board 5 percent cuts to their flat-funding levels, leaving them in difficult positions.

While the news may seem dire, it’s extremely important to put this information in context. This year, Congress had less money overall to spend on all federal programs and on top of that, nearly all programs were subject to the 5 percent sequestration cuts. Within these constraints, it has become clear that low-income housing has not become a high priority for policymakers.

Fortunately, as we see with the increase for McKinney programs, policymakers understand the positive impact and tangible results the Homeless Assistance Grants are having in their states and communities. Our homeless advocates and service providers are committed to increasing efficiency and effectiveness and letting Congress know the results these programs are seeing. It is truly due to all of your hard work and dedication that we have seen the support in Congress for these homeless assistance programs. Of course, we’ll need to build that support and be more vocal about how other HUD programs contribute to our success. 

Undeniably, we are going through a difficult time, as a nation and as a community dedicated to preventing and ending homelessness. As such, we will be forced to make difficult decisions about our systems and programs and work together to continue to do remarkable things. Fortunately, we at the Alliance are certain that this community is up to the challenge. We are proud to be a part of this community and we are certain that by working together and continuing to improve our systems and invest in what we know works, we will continue to make progress and work toward a nation where everyone has a place to call home.