Advocacy and Action Alerts

12th April
2012
written by Kate Seif

Inviting your Member of Congress or other elected official to visit and tour your homeless assistance program can be one of the most impactful ways to interact with them and engage them in the movement to end homelessness.  Site visits involve letting your representatives or senators see first-hand how your program operates and help them meet with staff and consumers, so that they can make the connection between your program working to end homelessness in their district, and the legislation they work on every day in Washington, DC.

So how and when can you conduct a site visit?  This blog will give you a little more background, and your opportunity is coming soon! The House and Senate will be in recess, working back in the districts, from April 30 to May 4! With several federal funding bills expected to be released in the coming weeks, the May recess offers a perfect opportunity to explain the importance of increasing federal homelessness funding to better service people at risk of or experiencing homelessness in their districts.

Site visits can be quick tours, or more involved events including speakers and the media.  Both are effective, and which type you plan depends on your Member’s availability and your goals for the site visit. Most importantly, you should pick one to two policy issues on which to focus.  This will depend largely on your specific program and the types of federal funds you use.  For example, do you serve homeless people with McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants? Do you serve youth? Veterans? You should choose a policy issue to discuss with your Member of Congress based on what matters most to your program.

The congressional office you’re working with may want to include press coverage, which is a great opportunity to raise awareness on the issue for both you and the Member of Congress. You should also consider getting your local partners involved in the planning process and actual site visit.  Consider inviting other key stakeholders in your community who may be able to help encourage the Member of Congress to attend.

Throughout the site visit, make sure that whatever the Member is seeing or hearing, including program outcomes, personal stories from consumers, and the unmet need in your community, is being connecting to the policy issue and “ask” you’re making of your Member.

The early May recess is truly an ideal time to connect with your Member on federal funding issues or other policy priorities.  If you’d like to conduct a site visit, we can help! You can use our advocacy toolkit for a step-by-step guide, or you can reach out to me at cseif@naeh.org for help deciding who to invite and on which policy issues to focus.  We’re here to help in any way you need and can’t wait to hear about all the visits Members of Congress will be doing to homeless assistance programs in May!

29th March
2012
written by Kate Seif

The results are in… and you did GREAT!

We are so impressed with all the advocacy efforts we’ve seen over the last few weeks that we wanted to take our weekly blog post opportunity to say “thank you!”  In February, following the release of the President’s Budget Proposal, the Alliance called on all of you to write as many letters as possible to your Members of Congress urging them to support the President’s request for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants.  We set the goal of sending 500 letters and you blew it out of the water!  In about a month, you were able to send at least 613 letters!! That’s 23% more than our goal – incredible!

During that time, two congressional sign-on letters circulated, one in the House and one in the Senate, about the importance of funding for HUD’s McKinney-Vento programs.  The House letter, circulated by Representative Gwen Moore (D-WI), called for funding McKinney-Vento at $2.231 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2013, as requested by the President.  This letter received a very impressive 65 signatures! That beats all the similar letters from 2010 and 2011! The Senate letter, calling for robust funding for HUD’s McKinney-Vento programs in FY 2013, received 28 signatures!

As you can tell, our partners did an incredible job on McKinney-Vento advocacy. But we’re not done bragging about you yet! A third letter circulating in the House called for $75 million to fund approximately 10,000 new HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers in FY 2013.  This letter received another impressive 64 signatures from representatives in a very short period of time.

In addition to these signatures, you got many Members to weigh in separately and directly with their colleagues on the Appropriations Committee about the importance of providing increased funding for these and other key homelessness programs.  All in all, we sent a loud and clear message to Congress – these programs serve the most vulnerable in a cost-effective or –efficient way. And more importantly, they work!

So what happens next? As is always the case in Congress, you can never know for sure. But here’s what we think will happen: The House and Senate will each decide very soon how much overall money the HUD Appropriations Subcommittee (in charge of funding for HUD programs) will have to spend.  Once that number is decided, they will move pretty quickly to divide that amount up among each HUD program.  They’re expected to begin releasing and voting on bills as soon as next month in the Senate and possibly shortly afterward in the House.  As you can see, decisions are being made now! It’s important to keep up our involvement and advocacy during these key decision-making times.  Work with us in the coming weeks to keep breaking records, and to keep up the fantastic showing we’ve seen from all of you for these key programs! On behalf of the entire team here at the Alliance, we just want to say THANK YOU for all of your help so far – now let’s keep our momentum going!

If you’d like to get involved, email me at cseif@naeh.org or check out our campaign pages!

22nd March
2012
written by Amanda Benton

As you may have seen, the House released a budget plan this week that shrinks the deficit, cuts taxes, and reduces spending on social programs. What you may not have realized, however, is how much this plan would affect the fiscal year (FY) 2013 funding process for key programs for homeless and at-risk people, including HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants, Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, and homeless veteran programs.

This plan – officially called a “budget resolution” – is a regular and important part of the federal budget process. It is not law but sets out Congress’ budgetary plans for the year. The most important aspect of the budget resolution is that it lays out the overall amount of funding that will be available to the Appropriations Committee for its annual funding bills. This overall amount is then eventually split up among countless federal programs, including homeless assistance programs.

In theory, the House and Senate should agree on a budget resolution by April 15 of each year. This often does not happen, though. In fact, the Senate does not plan to pass a budget resolution at all this year, since last year’s big debt deal included an agreement about how much funding would be available to the Appropriations Committee this year.

However, the House still plans to pass a budget resolution this year – one that goes beyond last year’s agreement in cutting overall funding for the annual funding bills. The budget resolution released earlier this week includes 2 percent, or $19 billion, less overall for the Appropriations Committee this year than Congress agreed to in the debt deal. The House budget resolution will disproportionately draw those cuts from domestic spending (which include key safety net and affordable housing programs) instead of from defense spending.

The end result of all of this is that the House will be writing annual funding bills that spend less money overall than the Senate’s bills do – especially for domestic programs. This, in turn, will affect how much each program is able to receive in the two chambers’ versions of the bills. And it will make final negotiations between the House and Senate for compromise funding levels a bit more complicated.

We do know one thing for sure, though: Despite the differences in the House and Senate, the Appropriations Committees are expected to move more quickly than usual and release and vote on these bills as soon as next month – which means we need your help right away!

It’s incredibly important to get involved in our FY 2013 McKinney, RHYA, and veterans advocacy campaigns – and the sooner, the better! Members of Congress are starting to make funding decisions, and we want to make sure that ending homelessness is a priority for them.

8th March
2012
written by Kate Seif

If the District’s 70+ degree weather today is any indication, it’s spring time here in our nation’s capital, and that means two things: the Cherry Blossoms are about to bloom and appropriations season is in full swing!

In addition to writing letters to your senators and representatives urging them to submit their funding priorities to the Appropriations Committees, there are currently two Dear Colleague letters circulating in the House supporting increased HUD McKinney-Vento and HUD-VASH funding.

Dear Colleague letters, also known as “sign-on letters,” are usually sponsored by one to three Members of Congress and contain a message for specific people in Congress – in this case, the sign-on letter is addressed to the Chair and Ranking Member of the Appropriations Committee or an Appropriations Subcommittee.  The letters asks to increase or maintain funding levels for specific programs for the upcoming fiscal year. The sponsors circulate the letter among their colleagues in either the House or Senate (in this case, both letters are in the House) to gather signatures.

The first letter is being circulated by Rep. Gwen Moore’s office in support of providing the $2.321 billion requested by the President for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants for fiscal year (FY) 2013.

The second letter is being circulated by Reps. Al Green, Mike Michaud, and Michael Grimm in support of providing $75 million for new HUD – Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers in FY 2013.  The President also requested $75 million for the vouchers, which will provide approximately 10,000 new vouchers for homeless veterans.

Dear Colleague letters are an easy way for a Member to show support and convey that support to their colleagues and constituents.  The sign-on letters are also a great opportunity to connect with your Members’ offices!

If you would like to see your representative’s name on either of these letters supporting increased funding for homeless veterans and the nation’s most vulnerable people, reach out to them! Let the offices know that the letters are being circulated and that you, as their constituent, would like to see them sign on! View the HUD-VASH or McKinney letters on our website for more talking points, sample letters, and instructions on how your representative can show their support! Then be sure to let us know who you contacted!

23rd February
2012
written by Amanda Benton

As we mentioned before, the President released his fiscal year (FY) 2013 Budget Proposal last week, and it included a whopping 17 percent increase to HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants, raising the funding level to $2.231 billion. This would be the largest one-year increase to homeless assistance in nearly 20 years!

As you can imagine, there was a lot of excitement at the Alliance when we saw this. This funding level would allow communities to continue their existing activities, expand the rapid re-housing and prevention efforts through the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG), and continue HEARTH implementation while funding new permanent supportive housing through the Continuums of Care.

But the President’s Budget Proposal is not law, so we still have to convince Congress to follow through with the Administration’s recommendations before they’re official – still, the President’s Budget Proposal initiates the discussion about funding priorities and thereby raises our chances that Congress will consider increasing funding for HUD’s McKinney-Vento programs. As such, we’ve already launched an effort to leverage the Administration’s request and educate Congress on the importance of making these programs a priority in FY 2013.

So what, you may ask, can you do to help? Well, for starters, join our FY 2013 McKinney Appropriations Campaign! We need as many people as possible to send letters to their Members of Congress in the next several weeks. In fact, we’ve set a goal of working with our partners across the country to send at least 500 letters to Members of Congress in support of the $2.23 billion funding level by March 20.

March 20 is the deadline for representatives to submit their official list of FY 2013 funding priorities, called programmatic requests, to their colleagues on the Appropriations Committee. Senators have just a few extra days, until March 23. After that, the Appropriations Committee will look at the priorities and start to craft the HUD appropriations bills based on those requests. So, we must act now to ensure that Members of Congress recognize that they should prioritize funding for homeless assistance this year.

We need your help! You can use this sample letter to send letters, and then ask your partners and colleagues to send letters, too.  Make sure to let us know if you have any questions and how many letters you send, so we can keep track to see if we reach our goal. Keep us in the loop or get more information by emailing Amanda Benton at abenton@naeh.org.

16th February
2012
written by Amanda Benton

On Monday, the Administration released its fiscal year (FY) 2013 Budget Proposal. This is the start of the Alliance’s advocacy season and we’re excited by some of the numbers! This year is a great time to start getting involved with advocating for homeless assistance programs – join us today!

If you’re wondering what the President’s Budget Proposal is – and why it’s important –  you’re not alone. This big document is released every year by the Administration in early February . It officially kicks off the federal budget process for the upcoming fiscal year, which will start on October 1.

A couple of weeks ago, we discussed why this proposal matters. The President’s budget Proposal is not law. It’s meant to serve as a guide for Congress as it makes its own decisions about appropriations and the federal budget.

The President’s FY 2013 Budget Proposal includes suggested funding levels for many key programs targeted toward low-income or homeless people. This year, we at the Alliance were really excited to see some impressive increases proposed to homeless assistance programs:

These increases of about $330 million to VA’s homelessness programs and HUD’s McKinney-Vento programs each (not to mention funding for additional HUD-VASH vouchers) are a clear sign of the Administration’s commitment to implementing the HEARTH Act and the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness – even in a time of extremely tight budgeting.

The Budget Proposal also included flat funding (the same as in FY 2012) for countless other federal programs, including many that are important to homeless and at-risk people:

In addition, it proposed some cuts to key programs, including Project-Based Rental Assistance, Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA), Section 811, and the Emergency Food and Shelter Program.  For more details on the Administration’s proposed funding levels, click here.

So, what happens next? Congress has already begun to hold hearings on the Budget Proposal, and soon they’ll start to craft their own proposals. The Alliance is planning to launch major advocacy campaigns around several high-priority funding issues, including for HUD’s McKinney-Vento programs, RHYA programs, and VA’s Zero Homelessness Initiative. If you are interested in participating in any of these campaigns, please contact us!

19th January
2012
written by Amanda Benton

In the vast majority of our advocacy blog posts, we discuss congressional advocacy. But there is also another important kind of advocacy:  efforts aimed at the Administration and government agencies.

Late last year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released an interim regulation for the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) program, as required by the HEARTH Act updating HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants. Normally, HUD releases a draft regulation, the public then comments on the regulation, and, finally, HUD takes those comments into consideration before publishing a final regulation – which only then goes into effect.

In this case, though, Congress specifically gave HUD more money to run the new ESG program, so HUD had to act quickly. HUD released this interim regulation, which officially went into effect on January 4, but they are still taking comments!

We’ve received a lot of questions from people who aren’t sure their comments matter this time, since the regulation is already in effect. So, we want to be clear: your comments are really critical!

The public has until Friday, February 3 to comment on the regulation. HUD will then consider those comments before eventually publishing a final, updated regulation. So, although comments won’t immediately affect the program, they’ll have a significant impact in the way the program is ultimately designed over the long run. If you or your community had any concerns about the regulations, now is your time to address them!

We’ve put out a lot of resources about the ESG regulation itself and recommendations and resources for communities beginning to implement the new ESG program. They can all be found at www.endhomelessness.org/ESG.

To provide people with an easy starting point and helpful guidance, the Alliance has released a draft of our own comments – the newest resource at www.endhomelessness.org/ESG. But just as you may use our comments to craft your own, we would love additional feedback from our partners across the country as to what we should include in the Alliance’s final comments. We want to hear your feedback and concerns about our comments and the regulation itself.

If you have thoughts of suggestions, please email Amanda Benton at abenton@naeh.org and include “ESG Comments” in the subject line.

Even though this is a different kind of advocacy, it’s just as important. It will have a long-term impact on the communities tools have at their disposal to prevent and end homelessness. We hope you’ll take the time to submit comments to HUD, and we can’t wait to hear from you with any questions, concerns, or feedback.

5th January
2012
written by Amanda Benton

As we discussed last month, there are plenty of ways to engage the media to raise awareness among the public and decisionmakers about homelessness in your community. Last month, we focused on the opportunity provided by the holidays to highlight the issue. Today, we’d like to discuss an upcoming opportunity to use data to raise awareness.

About a year ago, the Alliance released The State of Homelessness in America 2011. By working with our local partners, we were able to draw more attention to the issue of homelessness and its solutions than we could have working alone. In fact, dozens of local and national media outlets ran stories last January that mentioned the report and focused on how communities were coping with the challenges of the recession and its lingering effects.

The release of new local, state, or national data is often a great opportunity to work with the media and write editorials, submit letters to the editor, or pitch stories. The data provided in the report is the “hook” reporters are looking for, and it provides an opportunity to tell the story about the great work being done locally to address homelessness, despite the challenging economic situation. It is critical to inform the media – and through them, our communities and opinion leaders – about the importance of ending homelessness.

The Alliance is excited to announce another opportunity to collaborate with our partners across the country to do so. Next Thursday, January 12 at 1 p.m. ET, the Alliance will host a webinar to launch a national media campaign to raise awareness about homelessness. The campaign will occur in conjunction with the release of a new Alliance report with national and state data on homelessness, economic indicators of homelessness, and the demographic drivers of homelessness.

During the webinar, presenters will summarize the key findings of the report and discuss strategies for approaching reporters. We’ll even send out sample letters to the editor and other sample materials after the call to make it easier to contact members of the media. With our partners’ help, we can use this new report to educate and persuade decisionmakers about the scope of this problem and ways to implement real solutions.

If you are interested in joining the campaign but are unable to participate in the webinar, please contact Kate Seif at cseif@naeh.org.

29th December
2011
written by Kate Seif

2011 was a tumultuous year, to say the least.  With everything from threats of a government shutdown in April, to major deficit reduction negotiations in August, to the failure of the Super-Committee in November, Congress was certainly able to hold our attention these last twelve months.

With elections and sequestration on the horizon, 2012 may be no different.

As a result, this next year will be challenging but it will also provide numerous opportunities to get involved and impact the legislative process. The Alliance’s advocacy team will be busy throughout the year keeping everyone informed with the latest news and opportunities to get involved, through reaching out to the media, meeting with your Members of Congress, conducting site visits, and more! Here’s a preview of what’s coming up for 2012:

  • Media Awareness Campaign.  Shortly into the new year, the Alliance will be releasing a report, similar to The State of Homelessness in America in 2011, and we want to make sure it has as big a media impact as possible.  On January 12, we will be hosting a webinar to explain why this report matters to your community and how you can use its data to educate local decisionmakers and the public about the problem of homelessness in your community.  For more information on this upcoming event, please click here.
  • Capitol Hill Day. Every year, the Alliance hosts a Capitol Hill Day (CHD) in conjunction with our National Conference on Ending Homelessness in Washington, DC in July.  CHD offers conference participants an excellent opportunity to visit Capitol Hill and meet with their congressional offices (sometimes even the representatives and senators themselves!) in order to educate policymakers on the importance of homelessness programs in their districts. Last year’s CHD was a huge success , so we very much look forward to topping it next year! Information on getting involved will be available next spring.
  • Elections.  Election season is a great time to educate your elected officials (and their potential replacements) and get them to discuss the issue that matter most to us: preventing and ending homelessness in our communities and nationwide.  During the election cycle, it can be just as important to engage local leaders in the issues as it is to engage national leaders.  As the debates heat up and all eyes turn toward November 6 (Election Day!), stay tuned for how you can get involved!
  • Homeless Youth Campaign. As in 2011, the Alliance will be working to secure a funding increase for Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) programs for fiscal year (FY) 2013. This will involve staying on top of the appropriations process and making calls, scheduling visits, and writing letters throughout the year.
  • McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants Campaign. Compared to many of the programs within the Department of Housing and Urban Development, McKinney-Vento programs fared quite well in the last two appropriations cycles: they received an increase in FY 2011 and stayed flat for FY 2012. While we certainly consider these victories (especially in this fiscal climate), McKinney-Vento programs still need an increase in FY 2013 to fully implement the HEARTH Act.  Securing additional funds this year will be more important than ever as HPRP ends in 2012.

Securing additional funding for programs with the biggest impact on preventing and ending homelessness is particularly important this year with the threat of an across-the-board cut in January 2013.  Given these impending cuts, we must ensure that Congress works to prioritize affordable housing and targeted homeless assistance programs.

It will be more important to engage our Members of Congress this upcoming year than ever before.  We cannot do this alone! We need your help to reach out to your Members to impact this important process.  Please sign up for our advocacy update , check out our website , or email me if you’d like to get involved in any of these campaigns to help us make a difference in the lives of those experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

22nd December
2011
written by Amanda Benton

All year, we’ve been talking on this blog about congressional appropriations. In April, Congress passed its fiscal year (FY) 2011 appropriations bill, more than five months into the fiscal year. FY 2012 officially started on October 1, and Congress finalized FY 2012 funding for several departments, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in November. But what about the other government agencies?

Last weekend, Congress passed legislation to finalize all remaining FY 2012 appropriations bills. This included funding for programs within the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor, Education, and Veterans Affairs (VA), among many others. The bill includes:
• $115 million for Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) programs;
• $75 million for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) homeless services programs;
• $65 million for the Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) program;
• $137 million for Health Care for the Homeless Centers;
• $65 million for the Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) program; and
• $38 million for the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP), a slight increase over FY 2011.

When we look at both this bill and the one passed in November, we can see that funding for most targeted homeless assistance programs was held flat compared to FY 2011, despite deep cuts to many other federal programs. One notable exception to this was the joint HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program, which actually received increased resources in FY 2012.

All of this tells us that funding for targeted homeless assistance programs was generally protected or even expanded, even while funding for many other programs was sizably reduced. This is due, in very large part, to the efforts of our partners across the country to ensure that Congress understands the importance and effectiveness of homeless assistance programs in communities. As 2011 and winds to a close and we look toward further efforts in 2012, the Alliance is confident that by working together with our partners, we can continue to advance ending homelessness as a federal priority.

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