Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Unacceptable House Appropriations Bill Clears Subcommittee (The Bad, The Worse, and The Ugly)

by Liza Getsinger and Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

The Bad: The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) FY14 appropriations bill was doomed from the start. Faced with unacceptably low allocation levels, committee members were forced to make dramatic cuts from valuable programming, which if enacted would cause dramatic immediate pain and quickly reduce the supply of affordable housing.

Today, the House Appropriations THUD Subcommittee (THUD) marked up the FY14 appropriations bill. The bill passed subcommittee, but with strong objections from the Democrats on the committee, setting up what looks to be a long and ugly fight in full committee. Full Committee Ranking Member Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), called the bill “inadequate” and because of the low allocation levels, “unworkable from the start.” She urged the subcommittee to work towards reaching a larger budget agreement. As we highlighted last month, the House allocation for Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) is only $44.1 billion, which is $4 billion less than the post-sequestration FY 2013 level.

The House bill in its current form slashes HUD’s overall funding level by 15 percent compared to HUD FY13 allocations. The bill zeros out many of the Administration’s priorities—it provides no funding for “green,” “livable,” or “sustainable” programming, zeros out and rescinds Choice Neighborhoods, cuts Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) funds by 45 percent, and drastically reduces HOME funds. Both CBDG and HOME would be at the lowest levels since the programs were created. The bill would also cut Section 8 and public housing overall by $953 million to $24.9 billion, which is $2.8 billion less than the President requested. Funded at President’s request level were valuable programs for seniors and people with disabilities and the veterans housing voucher program. Full committee markup is expected next week.

The Worse: These cuts are already on top of the dramatic federal budgets cuts known as sequestration enacted March 1, which threaten to further undermine the already scarce funding going to state and local housing agencies. Sequestration cuts have been particularly damaging to the Housing Choice Voucher Program, which has been mostly sheltered from budget cuts over the last several decades. Housing agencies are beginning to speak out about the tough choices they are being forced to make such staff layoffs, reducing monthly subsidy amounts, and failing to issue new vouchers. Further cuts in FY14 will severely undermine housing agencies’ ability to provide much needed housing services to vulnerable individuals and families. And in the worst case, people already relying on housing supports may lose assistance altogether. NHC feels this is unacceptable, which is why as part of the Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding, we pressed for a much higher THUD 302(b) spending level and continue to advocate for more funding.

The Ugly: The House THUD appropriation level as proposed is unlikely to become law, but it does set up a major battle with the Senate, which has not yet set its 302(b) allocations. The two chambers set very different overall budget levels; Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) announced a 302(a) level of $1.058 trillion, which is substantially high than the House’s level of $967 billion. The House and Senate have yet to come to any compromise or agreement on them. With three and a half months until the end of FY13, expect a major battle this year, largely along party lines, over the total amount of federal spending. Yet another continuing resolution is not acceptable. The course of that battle will be partly determined by how strongly advocates call for funding of essential priorities like affordable housing, and the result of that battle will then flow back downward in the federal spending decisions. In such a charged political climate it is easy to lose sight of what matters—the millions of Americans who rely on housing assistance to help improve outcomes for themselves and their children.

No comments: