A national network of funders supporting strategic, innovative, and effective solutions to homelessness

Policy Expert Round-Up: Key Thoughts from the FY 2019 Federal Budget and Last Congress

Our national partners weigh in on some of the key takeaways from the latest FY19 federal budget cycle and past Congress.


Center on Budget & Policy Priorities (CBPP):  A primary lesson of the last Congress: advocacy matters! Think back to what we were facing in January 2017, at the beginning of the last Congress. It was widely expected that the new Administration and Congress would focus their energy on repealing the Affordable Care Act — and thereby cause millions of people to lose health coverage — as well as on making deep cuts in Medicaid and food assistance. The Budget Control Act’s (BCA) spending limits were also poised to force deep discretionary funding cuts in a broad range of defense and domestic priorities, including housing assistance programs, unless Congress could agree to change the law, which it didn’t seem anxious to do. In addition, the Administration and Congress were determined to enact deep tax cuts that would primarily benefit the wealthy and generate enormous fiscal pressure to cut spending on critical health and safety net programs. Moreover, the prevailing view in Washington was that, while perhaps these policies could amend to mitigate somewhat their harmful effects, they could not be stopped. 

Yet incredibly energetic and sustained advocacy across the country did just that: while Congress ultimately approved deep tax cuts, policymakers enacted none of the harmful changes or cuts in health or safety net programs, and the fiscal year 2018 appropriations law that Congress approved contained the largest expansion of federal rental assistance in more than 15 years, thanks to an earlier agreement to significantly raise the BCA spending caps.  As we begin a new Congress, people who care about protecting and strengthening federal health and safety net programs should feel heartened by their effective efforts in the last Congress.

CSH: Congress continues to be a rational actor by funding programs that the Administration would like to eliminate. For the final FY 2019 bill, Congress provided modest increases to homelessness programs (e.g. HUD’s homeless assistance grants), while also continuing to add new housing resources for targeted populations as was also done in FY 2018 (e.g. veterans through HUD-VASH, youth and families through Family Unification Program vouchers, and non-elderly disabled through 811 Mainstream vouchers.) Addressing underlying housing affordability and instability for these populations is a step in the right direction to move further upstream from the homelessness system, but we must ensure a balanced approach to meet housing needs for all individuals, not just populations deemed worthy of assistance.

National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH): For FY 2019, we had another year of modest success increasing funding specifically for homelessness programs. Congress again made this decision from understanding the terrible impact of homelessness on the people experiencing it and, on the communities where they live; the effectiveness of the housing-focused responses that HUD supports and communities are increasingly adopting; and the broad intersectional desire for solutions. On federal spending for housing more generally, Congress rejected the cuts proposed by the Administration’s budget request, but has not yet undertaken the major investments that will be necessary.

National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC):  Overall, the {FY 2019 spending} bill provides HUD programs with more than $12 billion above the president’s request. The spending package builds on the 10% increase in HUD funding that advocates and congressional champions secured in FY18 by providing $1.5 billion in new resources in FY19. In doing so, Congress has clearly rejected the calls to drastically cut housing investments in the form of funding cuts, harmful rent increases, rigid work requirements, or de facto time limits as proposed by the White House. For more details, see NLIHC’s updated budget chart.

This successful outcome is due to the hard work of advocates across the nation and strong Congressional champions, including Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jack Reed (D-RI) and Representatives David Price (D-NC) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) – the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittees, as well as Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Representatives Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Kay Granger (R-TX) – the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

(This language from the NLIHC originally appeared in the February 19, 2019 Memo to Members.)

Funders Together's Action Item Takeaway: Bottom line - funding advocacy works! How are you building the capacity for grantees to participate in the budget conversation? What could be different if your grantees were involved in this? Consider how philanthropy can ensure that we center voices of lived experience into this conversation. 

For more information on what philanthropy can do to support advocacy, visit the following resources:

Advocacy 101 for Funders webinar

Philanthropy is Key to Advocacy and Policy Wins in 2018, But More Work is Ahead

Why the Federal Budget Matters and What To Do About It


Thanks to Steve Berg, National Alliance to End Homelessness; Peggy Bailey and Doug Rice, Center on Budget & Policy Priorities; and Caitlin Kovalkoski, CSH for their contributions to this blog post.



We joined Funders Together because we believe in the power of philanthropy to play a major role in ending homelessness, and we know we have much to learn from funders across the country.

-Christine Marge, Director of Housing and Financial Stability at United Way of Greater Los Angeles

I am thankful for the local partnerships here in the Pacific Northwest that we’ve been able to create and nurture thanks to the work of Funders Together. Having so many of the right players at the table makes our conversations – and all of our efforts – all the richer and more effective.

-David Wertheimer, Deputy Director at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.

-President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964 State of the Union Address

Funders Together has given me a platform to engage the other funders in my community. Our local funding community has improved greatly to support housing first models and align of resources towards ending homelessness.

-Leslie Strnisha, Vice President at Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland

Our family foundation convenes local funders and key community stakeholders around strategies to end homelessness in Houston. Funders Together members have been invaluable mentors to us in this effort, traveling to our community to share their expertise and examples of best practices from around the nation.

-Nancy Frees Fountain, Managing Director at The Frees Foundation

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