Advocacy and Action Alerts
The evidence is overwhelming: collectively, we were able to accomplish an incredible amount when it comes to federal homelessness advocacy in the past year.
Chief among these successes is the fact that, despite deep cuts to many programs in both fiscal years (FY) 2011 and 2012, funding for targeted homeless assistance programs held more or less steady – and, in some cases, even increased! In this calendar year, Congress provided $125 million for more than 17,000 new HUD-VASH (HUD – Department of Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing) vouchers. And this doesn’t even count the fact that Congress increased funding for HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants by $36 million in April for FY 2011 in order to get a new program – the Emergency Solutions Grant – off the ground.
These accomplishments are a direct result of the hard work of our partners to educate Members of Congress about homelessness and its solutions over the past year. Moreover, they’re a testament to how much confidence Congress has in your ability to implement effective solutions.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the other highlights of our collective advocacy efforts over the past year:
- More than 50 local and national news stories about homelessness within just a few weeks after the release of State of Homelessness in America, many of them running after advocates reached out to their local media contacts;
- A Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) letter writing effort that produced about 200 letters to Members of Congress in just one month;
- Four congressional sign-on letters in support of increasing funding for HUD’s McKinney-Vento programs, and one sign-on letter in support of robust funding for RHYA and Education for Homeless Children and Youth programs; and
- A record-breaking Capitol Hill Day in July, with more than 360 participants attending over 270 meetings with congressional offices representing 42 states.
And that’s just a sampling of what we did together over the past year! It doesn’t even take into account the literally thousands of letters, calls, and other forms of outreach to Members of Congress about topics as varied as general education, appropriations, and the deficit reduction efforts of the “Super-Committee.”
With recent news about deep cuts to some affordable housing programs within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and high risk for further cuts to homeless assistance and affordable housing programs next year, it’s easy to feel as though our advocacy efforts over the past year were not successful. But the truth is these efforts have paid off, with Congress largely protecting funding for homeless assistance programs.
We at the Alliance cannot possibly express how grateful we are for all of your hard work over the past year or how excited we are to build upon this year’s accomplishments in the coming year.
We’ll need to work even harder, but we are confident, given the strength of our partners across the country, that we can outdo ourselves next year. Stay tuned for another blog post at the end of the month on how you can get involved in 2012!
As our last Friday News Roundup demonstrated, news stories about homelessness are prevalent during the winter holiday season. Holiday stories take a range of forms: they may share the story of a specific homeless individual or family; they may detail community programs working to serve people experiencing homelessness; or they could cover any number of other angles.
These stories present a wonderful opportunity for advocates to try to shape the message and impact of the media’s coverage of homelessness. There are several ways in which to engage the media, including:
- Letters to the editor and editorials;
- Press releases; and
- Pitching a story;
Press releases and pitching a story allow you to proactively work to place a story in the media by focusing a reporters’ attention on current homelessness-related events, including: a recent report your organization or community released, the impact of recent federal, state, or local budget cuts on your program’s ability to serve people, or the success of a program at preventing or ending homelessness for people in your community.
But what if a reporter is already writing a story? Stay on top of current events and be prepared with talking points that connect the issues of the day to your ideal messages for the season, such as a focus on solutions to homelessness or the impact of budget cuts.
And if the story has already run? Letters to the editor are great forums for responding to stories that have already been published about homelessness. You can try to relate the story to the message you hope to get across. For example, if your local paper runs a story about the local increase in homelessness, you can respond with a letter that focuses on the importance of providing permanent housing for the growing number of people in need in your community. Like letters to the editor, editorials are also a way to respond to an article or a trend in your community. Please keep in mind that editorials are usually harder to publish than letters to the editor and that both are subject to minor edits by newspaper staff.
These are just a few examples of how you could engage the media this holiday season. With homelessness likely to be in the news in the coming weeks, your organization and community can think about ways to ensure the coverage has the maximum impact on raising awareness of the issue and promoting efforts to prevent and end homelessness in your community.
On November 18, President Obama signed into law federal funding for the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Transportation, Commerce, Justice, and Agriculture. Along with this funding, he signed another stopgap funding measure to fund the rest of the government until December 16, thus allowing Congress more time to work on the remaining appropriations bills.
So what are those remaining bills and what’s happening with them? In particular, coming off the back of homeless youth awareness month, what’s happening with Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) funding (within the Department of Health and Human Services – HHS)? In recent years, funding for HHS has been a sticking point in finalizing appropriations due to its size and complexity. HHS couches programs as varied as the Low-Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and Head Start, to name just a few. And these are just a small subset of programs serving low-income or disadvantaged people. The sheer size and complexity of the funding bill means Members of Congress often haggle over a range of provisions.
In particular the Labor, HHS, and Education (Labor-H) bill is stalled due to its inclusion of funding for certain portions of the Affordable Care Act, the health care overhaul legislation of 2009. Due to its unpopularity with certain portions of Congress, the bill has become an even bigger sticking point. So much so, in fact, that the House Appropriations Labor-H Subcommittee has not yet taken it up (2 months into the fiscal year), and it is not scheduled to do so.
Unfortunately, amidst these large, multi-billion (billion with a b) dollar programs is RHYA, which was funded at $116 million (million, with an m) in fiscal year (FY) 2011. With the “controversy” surrounding the larger bill, RHYA is left in a lurch, so to speak. A highly-effective and well-rated (by the Office of Management and Budget) program helping some of our nation’s most vulnerable people, homeless youth, remains stalled in the face of mounting pressure to reduce the nation’s deficit and overturn certain legislation.
RHYA, like all other Labor-H programs, has been funding through a stopgap funding measure since October 1, which is set to expire on December 16, though Congress can certainly, and is likely to, extend that. It remains unclear when its FY 2012 funding level will be finalized; with recent reports indicating it may not be until after the new year.
With all these difficulties surrounding Labor-H funding, what can you – an advocate, a provider, a formerly homeless youth, a concerned citizen – do? Stay informed, know when to act, and work with us to make an impact for this much-needed and under-funded program. Together, we can be a voice for the many young people experiencing homelessness throughout our nation.
Today’s post comes to us from Amanda Benton (née Krusemark), director of grassroots mobilizing at the Alliance.
Over the last couple of months, the Alliance has been working with the Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding (CHCDF) to secure the greatest possible amount of overall funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in fiscal year (FY) 2012.
The HUD budget funds programs that offer affordable housing to needy families, assist homeless people into stable living situations, provide block grants to improve communities, among others. The HUD budget has and continues to provide assistance to the lowest-income and most vulnerable Americans who have been hit hardest by our recent economic downturn – and this includes homeless and at-risk veterans as well as their families.
On Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill to provide $37 billion in new funding in FY 2012 for HUD – about 10 percent less than last year. The HUD Appropriations Subcommittee in the House has proposed similar legislation that would cut funding for HUD programs by 7.3 percent. Key senators are already meeting with their colleagues in the House to work out a final, compromise piece of legislation.
Under the spending caps set by the deficit reduction deal passed in August, funding for non-security discretionary spending (as opposed to mandatory spending, like Medicaid) should decline by an average of about five percent relative to last year; in other words, both current House and Senate proposals would hit the HUD budget disproportionately.
These reductions would result in thousands fewer Housing Choice Vouchers and deep cuts to public housing, HOME, CDBG, and other critical affordable housing programs. While funding for HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program would not be cut, it would also not receive the additional resources needed to meet the growing need for homeless assistance resources, implement the HEARTH Act, and achieve the goals of the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.
Congress has expressed a bipartisan commitment to ensure that deficit reduction efforts do not happen on the backs of the most vulnerable Americans, but many affordable housing programs have nonetheless seen dramatic cuts. These federal reductions, especially when coupled with shrinking state and local budgets, will further swell the number of people experiencing and at risk of homelessness – making it all the more necessary to provide additional resources to homeless assistance programs.
However, without additional resources for HUD programs overall, the House and Senate HUD Appropriations Subcommittees will be very hard-pressed as they work out a compromise bill to provide increased resources to specific programs and help avoid some of the most painful cuts to affordable housing programs.
So, we invite you to join our effort: contact your Member of Congress today, and ask him/her to work with their colleagues to provide the highest possible amount for HUD programs for FY 2012.For more information or to learn about Alliance advocacy efforts, please email Amanda Krusemark Benton.
Last week, we told you about the Super-Committee and why we need to ask them to protect homeless assistance programs. Last month, we told you what the Super-Committee needs to know about ending homelessness. Today (and tomorrow), we need you to pass that message along to the members of the Super-Committee.
Specifically, we’re talking about Medicaid. The Medicaid Coalition, led by Families USA, will be having call-in days today, Thursday, October 13 and tomorrow, Friday, October 14. We’re asking you to call the Members on the Super-Committee and urge them to reject any cuts to Medicaid. Medicaid is a critically important part of the social safety net that protects homeless and other vulnerable people.
Why tomorrow? Because tomorrow is the deadline for congressional committees that work on Medicaid to relay their expert recommendations to the Super-Committee. All committees that work on Medicaid – on both the House and Senate sides – have the opportunity to send the Super-Committee their thoughts on how the Super-Committee should approach Medicaid tomorrow.
This is another great chance to contact your Members of Congress, build upon your emerging relationship with lawmakers, and make a difference in the lives of those suffering most in this economic climate. Reaching out to your Members on this issue is an important step in letting congressional leadership know that homelessness programs like Medicaid, TANF, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants and other low-income housing and homelessness programs are key to stabilizing millions of families across America.
The Coalition has offered their toll-free number for the Capitol Switchboard which can connect you to your Member’s office: 1-866-922-4970
In addition, Families USA has made talking points and other fact sheets available through the following links:
Medicaid, Deficit Reduction and the “Super Committee”
Cutting and Restructuring Medicaid Should Not Be Part of Deficit Reduction
Medicaid’s Impact in the States: Helping People with Serious Health Care Needs
The Alliance has talking points specifically tailored to strategies for ending chronic homelessness through Medicaid and the need for the Super-Committee to preserve this key program.
The House and Senate are making decisions right now that will have a critical impact on funding for homelessness assistance programs. In order to prevent projected increases in homelessness, we need to increase federal funding for essential programs like the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants. That is why we teamed up with the Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding (CHCDF) to sponsor a National Call-In Week happening now.
First, some background information:
With the passage of the debt ceiling bill, Congress began work in earnest on fiscal year (FY) 2012 spending. Currently, the House and Senate are in the process of making final decisions on key programs such as McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants. These final decisions are happening in conjunction with ongoing concerted efforts to cut spending and reduce the federal deficit. While homelessness programs have been fortunate enough to not have been cut, proposals so far have been to simply flat fund many of these programs, including the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants. While we are grateful that these programs are unlikely to be cut, flat funding is simply not enough. As our recent report indicates, increasing federal funding is the only viable way to prevent an increase in homelessness.
The House and Senate Appropriations Committees will be working over the coming weeks to come to an agreement on funding levels for HUD and other programs before final legislation is passed. If the final legislation includes flat funding for McKinney-Vento Grants, there won’t be enough resources to effectively support the many Americans who are among the rising numbers of those experiencing homelessness.
What You Can Do
Contact your Members of Congress this week and urge them to give as much funding as possible to HUD, including an increase to HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants. The goal of our call-in week is to convince Members of Congress to provide as much funding for HUD as possible in the short time that is left before they make final funding decisions.
It’s important that Members of Congress, especially those on the Appropriations Committees, request moving enough additional money into the FY 2012 HUD funding bill to provide for an increase in homelessness funding, and the more of their constituents that they hear from, the more likely they are to act.
For more information, or if you have questions, email Kate Seif at email@example.com.
Some Helpful Resources:
Today’s post comes to us from Sam Strike, Alliance policy fellow.
Last month, Congress passed major deficit reduction legislation. Known as the Budget Control Act of 2011, this legislation created what they called a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction—more commonly referred to as the “Super-Committee.” This Committee is tasked with finding $1.5 trillion in additional deficit reduction, which could have a huge impact on ending homelessness. So it is vital to the homeless assistance community to ensure that these cuts don’t hurt our nation’s most vulnerable people.
Rather, the Super-Committee can continue the federal government’s long-standing, bipartisan commitment to ending homelessness by:
- Preventing further cuts in discretionary spending for affordable housing and targeted homelessness programs;
- Protecting Medicaid access to help reach the federal government’s long-standing goal of ending chronic homelessness; and
- Preserving low-income, safety net programs through a balanced approach to deficit reduction.
Members of Congress should be aware that slashing the budgets of programs working to end homelessness would be counter-productive. Stable housing helps people get back on their feet more quickly – avoiding the slog of extended stays in publically-funded shelters and social service programs. If these housing-centered programs are cut from the federal budget, the burden will just be shifted to state and local governments who will foot the bill of providing emergency shelters, local social service programs, mental health facilities, and emergency room visits by people who cannot afford them. The best way to end homelessness is to provide housing first. It’s the housing that will serve as the foundation necessary to promote self-sufficiency and independence.
We must make sure that those members of the Super-Committee understand the following, as they continue their work on deficit reduction:
- Homeless assistance programs are a very small part of the federal budget and are critical to the many Americans struggling to find affordable housing;
- Targeted homelessness assistance programs help people stabilize in housing, gain independence, re-enter the workforce, and create more opportunities for their children; and
- Key safety net programs like TANF and SSI provide income, employment, and other supports to low-income people, play a key role in efforts to prevent and end homelessness for the most vulnerable Americans.
So what can you do?
The Alliance has developed a policy brief providing recommendations to the Super-Committee and outlining the impact on homelessness should the Super-Committee process fail to produce the necessary savings. If your Member sits on the Super-Committee, call their office to request that he/she continues to support the federal government’s commitment to ending homelessness. Use the Alliance’s talking points or email Kate Seif if you have any questions.
The Super-Committee has until November 23 to release its proposal, and Congress must vote on the proposal by December 23. Now is the time to impact these decisions. Now is the time to act.
Yesterday, Congress held its first vote on a proposal to fund programs within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), including homeless assistance programs, for the upcoming fiscal year, FY 2012. This process, called the appropriations process, is one of the most critical times for advocates to get involved and reach out to their Members of Congress to educate them on the important programs funded through this yearly process.
The draft legislation, passed by the House HUD Appropriations Subcommittee yesterday, would provide the same amount of funding for HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants in FY 2012 as in FY 2011. Unfortunately, as many of our readers know, this is disappointing because a significant increase in funding is needed to address the needs of the growing population of people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and to implement the HEARTH Act.
However, there was definitely some good news! The legislation would provide $75 million for new vouchers under the joint HUD – Department of Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program, as the Alliance had advocated!
The original draft of the legislation, released on Wednesday, removed all funding for the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), which is key to coordinating the federal government’s response to homelessness. Fortunately, the subcommittee adopted an amendment, proposed by Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) to provide about $3 million in funding for USICH. It is likely that the Senate will also provide funding for USICH, allowing them to continue their important work implementing the federal strategic plan.
We must let our representatives know that we appreciate the funding for HUD-VASH and ICH but hope they will support a higher funding level for HUD’s McKinney-Vento programs in the final FY 2012 legislation. If you are interested in contacting your representatives let us know!
The legislation would also fund a number of other key HUD affordable housing programs by:
- Protecting existing Section 8 voucher renewals;
- Maintaining equal funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) compared to FY 2011;
- Providing $1.2 billion for the HOME Investment Partnership (25 percent cut compared to FY 2011);
- $600 million for Section 202 Housing for the Elderly ($200 million increase compared to FY 2011); and
- $196 million for Section 811 Housing for Persons with Disabilities ($46 million increase compared to FY 2011).
There is still a long way to go and many more opportunities to reach out to your Members of Congress; the process is far from over! The Senate has yet to release its own proposal, and then the two chambers must work out a compromise version of the legislation. That is not expected to happen before the start of FY 2012 on October 1, so Congress is likely to pass a stopgap funding measure through late fall to give itself more time to work out final details.
Today’s post was written by Assistant to the President Kate Seif.
Last month, almost 1,400 people came to Washington, DC for the Alliances National Conference on Ending Homelessness. As part of the agenda, more than one-in-four participated in Capitol Hill Day. Nonprofit providers, public officials, private sector representatives, consumers, and other key stakeholders visited their Members of Congress on Capitol Hill to update them on local progress in ending homelessness and urge them to make ending homelessness a federal policy priority.
Based on what happened in their more than 270 congressional meetings, we have assembled a 2011 Capitol Hill Day report. The report highlights the unprecedented success of this year’s Capitol Hill Day. This year, more than 360 participants, went on more than 270 meetings. Four states, including Montana, Nevada, West Virginia, and Rhode Island, had a 100 percent participation rate, meaning that every person from the state who registered for our conference participated in Capitol Hill Day.
Of the more than 270 congressional meetings, almost 50 of those meetings were held with a Member of Congress himself/herself. Advocates made the case for increased funding for McKinney-Vento programs in an astounding 246 of those meetings! Other policy recommendations discussed include the importance of providing additional funding for Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, SAMSHA Homeless Service programs, and Runaway and Homeless Youth Act programs. The latter – RHYA funding, was really taken up by advocates this year, who raised the issue with at least five times as many offices in 2010.
Not only was Capitol Hill Day an amazing effort by advocates from around the country, but it has already had a measurable impact on federal policy on homelessness. For example, Capitol Hill Day outreach helped to increase the number of signatories on a recent McKinney-Vento congressional sign on letter circulating in the Senate calling for robust funding for the program. A total of 29 senators signed on to this letter, which is more than a similar letter circulated last year. This is an amazing development, particularly given the difficult environment around increased federal spending. Many of these signatures came as a direct result of conference participants connecting with their senators and their offices. In light of the current political and economic environment, this is really a huge success!!
The best part is that we haven’t seen the full results yet, because Congress has yet to release specific HHS or HUD funding proposals, though they are expected this fall. The success of this year’s Capitol Hill Day wouldn’t have been possible without participants from around the country joining together. The individual effort of each person, and particularly the volunteer State Captains who spent countless hours organizing each state’s efforts, allowed this year’s Capitol Hill Day to be one of the most successful yet. We will keep everyone updated on the continued impact these more than 270 meetings had on federal policy.
Thanks again to all our wonderful advocates and for another fantastic Capitol Hill Day!
Photos courtesy of the Bread for the World Flickr stream.
The National Conference on Ending Homelessness is just around the corner and with it comes our annual Capitol Hill Day.
Capitol Hill Day gives conference attendees the opportunity to sit down with their congressional offices and tell them about all the fantastic work their organization and community has been doing to end homelessness. The goal is to convince policymakers to make ending homelessness a federal priority.
Now that you have all the tools from the rest of the Advocacy How-To series that you need to contact your congressional offices, you have absolutely no reason not to meet with them during Capitol Hill Day 2011!
This year’s Capitol Hill Day will officially be Friday, July 15 from 1:30 to 5:00 pm. However, many states are scheduling meetings for earlier in the week to accommodate their congressional offices’ schedules.
Getting face time with Members of Congress and their staff is a rare opportunity, so you should definitely take advantage of these meetings.
When you sit down with your congressional office you:
- Build necessary relationships with policymakers;
- Educate your Members of Congress on successes and progress at home; and,
- Encourage them to support policies to eliminate homelessness.
How do I get involved?
To participate in Capitol Hill Day, you should get in touch with your State Captain.
State Captains take the lead on scheduling all of the Capitol Hill meetings for conference attendees from their state. You can contact the Alliance to get information about your state’s plans for Capitol Hill Day or contact your State Captain(s) directly using this list.
You can also connect with us during the conference at the advocacy information table next to registration. We will be there to answer all of your questions and provide any further information you may need.
If your state does not have a State Captain, and you would like to volunteer as one, or simply to get more information on Capitol Hill Day, please contact Amanda Krusemark at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy of citron_smurf.