Is a federal budget deal in the offing?

written by Steve Berg
December 6, 2013

For the past several days, media outlets that focus on federal policy have been reporting positive news about the possibility of a “small” budget agreement. Today the story hit the mainstream media, in the form of a New York Times story: Congress Nears Modest Accord on the Budget. The first thing to say about this is that it is not by any means a done deal – while all the incentives seem to be lining up in favor of this kind of agreement, there are an almost infinite number of ways it could go wrong.

That being said, press reports have consistently said this “small deal” would leave out any major tax or entitlement reform. It would consist of a partial roll-back of the sequestration cuts, about evenly split between defense and nondefense spending. For domestic “discretionary” programs like HUD’s homelessness and housing programs, the result would be something in between the House and Senate versions from earlier this year, maybe somewhat closer to the lower House version but still in the middle area. Of course, that’s just the overall number; the Appropriations Committees would still need to negotiate spending levels for each individual program.

For people working on homelessness, the first implication is that, now more than ever, members of Congress must hear how important it is that they turn away from sequestration and set realistic spending levels for homelessness programs. The recent PIT count shows that, against all odds, we have continued to make progress even in a very difficult economy; but that will all be undermined if funding levels continue to shrink.

The second implication, of course, is that a wholesale return to substantial increases in capacity every year is not going to happen, at least not right away. The Alliance is doing a lot to help communities figure out how to get the most impact out of the funding that we do have. I’d encourage people to check the webinar that we’ll be running on December 17, NOFA Planning and Advocacy, and keep up with the Alliance’s analysis and updates on our website and blog.

One other thing – today’s news is full of tributes to Nelson Mandela, who passed away yesterday at the age of 95. I consider it a great honor to have lived at a time when this man walked the earth. Mandela was fearless and relentless in pressing for what was right; and at the same time, regarded everyone he dealt with, including people who had done him great wrong, with respect and honor.

He and his many allies accomplished great, seemingly impossible things – ending homelessness in America seems like a pretty easy lift compared to ending apartheid in South Africa – and they did it by making deals and continuing to push. Rest in peace.