On Thursday, September 14, Funders Together hosted a webinar focused on what’s new with the federal budget and how it affects funding for homelessness and related programs.
Experts Steve Berg, National Alliance to End Homelessness, Regina Reed, National Health Care for the Homeless Council, and Doug Rice, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, joined us to share what we know, what is important to keep an eye on, and how philanthropy can be engaged with this debate.
Five things to note as the federal budget debates continue:
- The House and Senate have both passed bills with HUD funding levels that are substantially too low. The House is flat-funding HUD at 2017 levels, while the Senate is increasing it by a modest $74 million. Neither level is enough to keep up with the increasing number of people entering homelessness.
- Both House and Senate bill do not provide nearly enough spending to renew all housing choice vouchers, which means that the vouchers will dry up quickly. Even with the increase in the Senate bill, there is still a shortfall of several hundred million dollars of funding for vouchers which would result in a loss of about 140,000 current vouchers.
- Tax reform is also on the agenda and worth keeping an eye on. There is concern that tax reform would lead to significant loss of revenue and that Congress would try to cut social programs like Medicaid and SNAP to offset the deficit.
- We need to keep paying attention to Medicaid and proposed overhauls. While Repeal and Replace seems to have faded to the background, we are not out of the woods yet. There have been new plans introduced that would majorly overhaul Medicaid, like the Cassidy-Graham bill that is gaining popularity. Also worth noting is that the Administration is encouraging states to add work requirements or drug tests in order to obtain Medicaid benefits.
- The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) is still at risk of sunsetting. While the Senate committee bill includes full funding for permanent operations of USICH, the House bill is letting funding expire. This will be addressed when the House and Senate meet to negotiate a final deal.
- We know we said 5 things, but this point is worth including as we know the budget debate is ever evolving: A stop-gap Continuing Resolution is in effect until December 8. Congress will attempt to finish spending bills for the rest of the fiscal year by then, or to pass another temporary measure if it takes longer. There is speculation that there will be one more shorter extension and then get a final appropriations bill done right before Christmas.
How can philanthropy be engaged in these important debates?
- Educate by lifting up stories of what is working. Philanthropy can be consistent with messaging around homelessness and can help communities tell their stories by convening grantees and congressional leaders to highlight successful programs and how homelessness impacts their area. Make sure to tie these stories to the need for additional resources.
- In healthcare, philanthropy can focus on funding issues like the social determinants of health, not picking up the pieces of broken healthcare. It is also important to keep abreast of what happens at the state-level with waiver issues, such as imposing certain requirements.
- Funders who are focused on the local level can still get involved. Stories make a big impact and philanthropy can help. Local funders can frame themselves as partners with the government, just like national funders as each local funder has members of Congress they can engage and educate.
- Focus on the financial argument. There is evidence that when economies are weak, public assistance dollars help to grow local economies, which can resonate with certain members of Congress. On the health side, Medicaid and health centers are huge job creators. However, there can be a danger that these arguments get twisted around—with work requirements, for example. Always emphasize that housing and health come first, then comes work!
- Advocacy will need to ramp up beginning in October aiming toward stronger funding in the final bill. There will be a strong push for a deal to raise spending caps before the holidays, and it's important for homelessness program spending to get on the list of items that need to be addressed if there is more money.
Want additional information on the federal budget? Check out these resources: