Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bipartisanship no match for caps in Senate THUD bill

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

On June 23, the Senate Appropriations Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) subcommittee held its mark-up hearing on the FY 2016 THUD appropriations bill. Subcommittee Chair Susan Collins (R-Maine) opened the hearing with a summary of the challenges facing the subcommittee and the “tyranny of the math.” Two key facts led to a troubling conclusion:
  1. Federal Housing Administration (FHA) receipts are estimated to be $1.1 billion below FY2015 levels.
  2. The cost of renewing rent assistance programs will be $2.3 billion more than current funding levels.
Therefore, despite the $55.6 billion allocated to HUD, this amount is not sufficient to keep all programs at their current FY 2015 funding levels.

Subcommittee Chair Collins also expressed her support for maintaining housing assistance for the 4.5 million families and individuals currently served as well as efforts to reduce and end homelessness. While the bill has not been released yet, Chair Collins announced a few specific provisions in the bill: 10,000 HUD-VASH vouchers, an additional $20 million for family unification vouchers and additional funding to test programs focused on youth homelessness. The bill would fund the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program at $2.9 billion. In the hearing, Chair Collins also explained why the subcommittee chose to make a deep cut to the HOME program: to avoid severe cuts to other programs, avoid eliminating programs and dealing with a HUD budget where 83 percent has to fund existing rental assistance needs. The amount of the cut was not announced in the hearing, but Ranking Member Reed’s (D-R.I.) statement clarified that the HOME program would be cut to $66 million, or only seven percent of its current $900 million level. At such a low level, the HOME program could not effectively function as designed.

Ranking Member Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) praised the subcommittee for its bipartisan and transparent efforts but said despite its “great will, we need a new wallet.” Ranking Member Mikulski called for a budget agreement and an end to sequestration. Under the budget caps, any THUD budget will be insufficient because it will not be able to even maintain FY 2015 funding levels, which are already insufficient for the great housing need in this country.

The subcommittee favorably reported the bill to the full committee with no objections or additional amendments.

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