Archive for October 27th, 2011

27th October
written by Kate Seif

Lately, there has been a lot of news coverage on the “Super-Committee” created by the deficit reduction agreement Congress passed in August. But what has it been up to? And what does that mean for efforts to end homelessness?

The decisions the Super-Committee, known formally as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, makes will have a tremendous impact on future “discretionary spending” (including affordable housing and homelessness programs run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development) and “mandatory spending” (i.e. Medicaid).  Both of these can greatly impact homelessness policy.

Since its creation, the Super-Committee has met numerous times to discuss its plans for reducing the deficit.  These discussions have often taken place privately, with many of the details of their discussions unavailable to the public.

However, there have been a few hearings open to the public, such as the one earlier this week, where the topic of conversation was largely focused on the impact of cuts to discretionary funding (including the 10 years of cuts already written into August’s deal, and any further cuts the Super-Committee proposes).  Dr. Doug Elmendorf, Director of the Congressional Budget Office served as sole witness to answer the Members’ questions on the effectiveness different types of cuts and policy decisions would have on reducing the federal deficit.
In addition to these hearings, the Super-Committee process also included an opportunity for the regular standing congressional committees to weigh in on the process and make suggestions about programs that should be cut, reduced, or preserved.  Recommendations from most of the committees are available here, but some highlights of their letters to the Super-Committee include the following:

  • Norm Dicks (D-WA), Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee, specifically mentioned the need to preserve McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants and the Section 8 accounts.
  • The House Appropriations Committee majority (Republicans) urges the Super-Committee to “look beyond the limited scope” of further cuts to discretionary spending, noting that August’s deal already made enough cuts to discretionary spending.
  • The House Financial Services Committee majority (Republicans) specifically notes that HUD programs have been “characterized by a high degree of inefficiency,” and lists numerous programs that should be eliminated or cut, including the Community Development Block Grants and Public Housing.
  • The Senate Finance Committee’s minority (Republicans) suggests that the Medicaid program be modernized with states gaining more responsibility for the program’s execution.

It is unclear how these recommendations will play out as the Super-Committee continues its discussions in the coming weeks. Many of its 12 members have noted repeatedly, however, that “nothing is off the table.”

So, what’s next? They must release their draft legislation by November 23.  Congress then has until December 23 to pass the Super-Committee’s recommendations.  If the Super-Committee either fails to come up with a way to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion, or if Congress fails to pass the proposals by December 23, a process called “sequestration” (automatic cuts to both defense and non-defense spending), will occur. Sequestration would likely lead to further cuts over the next decade on homelessness assistance and low-income housing programs.

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