McKinney-Vento Appropriations: Understanding the Process

written by naehblog
July 21, 2010

A special blogpost today because the House Appropriations Committee proposed bumping the FY 2011 McKinney-Vento budget from $2.055 to $2.2 billion!

If that first sentence made no sense to you, you’re not alone. But we’re hoping this post helps you wrap your mind around the federal budget process.

We’ve written about fiscal year 2011 (FY 2011) funding a few times now on this blog – usually asking YOU to contact your members of Congress to ensure that homeless assistance programs (McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants primary among them) receive adequate funding.

And we’ve been asking you to do that because RIGHT NOW – right this very moment – Congress is making decisions about the federal budget.

From February (when the President releases a proposed budget) to whenever-Congress-gets-around-to-deciding, the House and the Senate meet in their committees and subcommittees to decide how much money should go into federal programs, agencies, and departments.

And as you can imagine, this is no small task. President Obama’s proposed FY 2011 is $3.8 trillion dollars – you try deciding how that money should be spent! For their part, Members consider a wide breadth of factors, including the President’s proposed budget, their own legislative priorities, issues of interest to home districts and constituents, national concerns (like the economy!), and a wealth of other things.

So it basically goes down like this:

Subcommittees (12, to be precise) review portions of the bill pertinent to them. In our case, the House and Senate Transportation – Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) subcommittees review the housing and transportation portions of the federal budget, including funding for the McKinney-Vento programs.

Once the T-HUD committees finish examining and revising (we call it “marking up”) their bill, it goes to the House and Senate Appropriations committees. The Appropriations committees collect the bills they received from the 12 subcommittees, marks them up, and passes them on.

Those bills then go to the House and Senate floors where they can be amended, and then members vote.

(A quick note to keep in mind: the House and Senate do not coordinate their schedules. So while the House T-HUD subcommittee and Appropriations committee have already marked up their bill, the Senate T-HUD subcommittee is just meeting today.)

So here’s a little secret: usually, the Appropriations committees let the subcommittees make the big decisions. In both the House and the Senate, it’s the subcommittees that comb through the portions of the federal budget and determine how resources should be allocated. In fact, it’s usually the case that the budget bills don’t change much once they’ve left subcommittees.

Got it?

But this is exactly why this change to McKinney-Vento funding is such a big deal! The House Appropriations committee broke with tradition and changed the budget bill, allocating $2.2 billion – an extra $145 million – to McKinney-Vento programs!

And McKinney-Vento was the only program to receive a boost in the House Appropriations committee. Of all the things members of the House Appropriations committee were concerned about when examining the T-HUD budget, of all the programs and agencies and departments and initiatives they could’ve funded or not funded, the only program they gave more money to was the McKinney-Vento programs.

So it’s a pretty big deal.

This morning, the Senate T-HUD committee convened to mark up the Senate’s version of the budget bill. Once we get the numbers from the Senate T-HUD subcommittee, we’ll have a better grasp on what might be in the actual budget bill that’s signed by the president.

Budget news – and certainly the federal budget process – can be dry and tedious, but it’s events like this that make it interesting. The House Appropriations committee bumping up the number at this point in the game has upped the ante – and really made the Senate T-HUD subcommittee meeting more interesting.

Because – let’s not forget the wide-angle view – the money that’s allocated to McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Programs is the money that gets sent to communities. It’s the money that funds prevention and rapid re-housing initiatives, permanent supportive housing programs, social and supportive services, and other activities instrumental in reducing and ending homelessness in our own neighborhoods.

Through that lens, you can see why it’s a pretty big deal to us.

So stay tuned – we’ll keep you updated all day long what’s to come!