Policy and Legislation

20th July
2012
written by Steve Berg

We’d like to thank the nearly 1,500 practitioners, public officials and other stakeholders who took time out of their busy schedules to attend our 2012 National Conference on Ending Homelessness. For us in the Alliance, the level of enthusiasm and positivity on display in the plenary sessions and workshops was immensely gratifying. The homeless assistance community has come far, in terms of its overall level of sophistication and focus on implementation in order to get results, and the conference was a great opportunity for people to share what they have learned, as well as for those of us in the community to engage in a discussion about what we still must do to achieve our goals.

In her remarks at the conference’s closing plenary, Alliance CEO Nan Roman touched on a few of the themes that emerged over the course of the three days. I’ll expand on some of those here.

Targeting – The message came through loud and clear: there are a range of interventions to draw upon, but for an intervention to be successful it must be targeted at the right people. Specifically, supportive housing is our most intensive intervention, and it is designed for the most vulnerable population with the most severe disabilities. If such people are screened out in favor of people with fewer challenges, they will live and probably die on the streets.

Olmstead – The Olmstead case reminded us that large programs devoted solely to housing people with severe mental illness are seldom the best way to serve people, and often are not what people in such programs would choose for themselves if they had more reasonable options. In some cases, such programs actually violate civil rights laws. This challenges people who run housing programs for people with disabilities to consider when it might be appropriate to develop mixed-use projects.

Rapid Re-housing – Somebody once said that the only people who believe in rapid re-housing are everyone who’s ever tried it. Now that virtually every sizeable community around the country has tried it, thanks to HPRP, there is a consensus that it’s the right model for moving most people who are experiencing homelessness into housing. With HPRP winding down soon, much of the talk at the conference was about how to maintain funding for rapid re-housing programs. Fortunately, new HUD regulations make it easy for communities to use Continuum of Care and ESG funds for this purpose, and many communities have also identified other funding sources for rapid re-housing.

Youth and youth counts – The homeless assistance community has begun developing a range of ideas about a more systemic approach to ending youth homelessness. A double track of workshops about youth homelessness, as well as increasing collaboration with the federal Administration for Children, Youth and Families and organizations like the National Network for Youth, focused on advancing these ideas. When the January 2013 point-in-time counts roll around, expect a stronger push for a more accurate count of youth experiencing homelessness.

Veterans’ money and leadership – During the conference, VA announced the awards for about $100 million in grants for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, which funds community-based organizations that run rapid re-housing and emergency homelessness prevention programs for veterans and their families. This announcement drew attention to the fact that VA now has a full array of programs to address homelessness, and that those programs are on their way to being funded at the scale necessary to end homelessness among veterans.

The struggle over other federal money – It’s clear that federal money for HUD programs has been harder to come by in the past two years, and that this will continue to be the case. Many communities are increasingly turning to the large antipoverty entitlement programs – TANF, SNAP, SSI, and Medicaid, for example – where federal funding has not been cut, while programs for veterans, which are less threatened by budget cuts, must serve as examples of what can be accomplished with the proper funding. Homeless assistance practitioners are also turning to more efficient models like rapid re-housing, which require less money per household. And they are making sure that their representatives in congress, who determine the funding levels, know about the good that their programs do.

Medicaid – The prospect of funding most services and treatment for chronically homeless people through Medicaid appears closer to reality that anyone would have thought possible only a few years ago. The Affordable Care Act will allow states to expand eligibility in 2014, and the majority of states will opt to do so. A lot of work behind the scenes has already gone into ensuring that the right kinds of services will be funded by Medicaid, but it will take new partnerships, particularly at the state level, to make the most of these new opportunities.

Progress – Perhaps the most rewarding part of the conference for us in the Alliance was seeing the resolve of advocates, in the face of enormous obstacles put up by the economy and the political system, to try new options, discard methods that are less effective, and work smarter and more efficiently to develop programs that, for thousands of people, mean the difference between housing and homelessness.

17th July
2012
written by Amanda Benton

We at the Alliance are getting increasingly excited for tomorrow, July 18 – the official Capitol Hill Day 2012! Capitol Hill Day is held every year in conjunction with our National Conference on Ending Homelessness. This year, conference participants from an astounding – and record-breaking! 44 states will head up to Capitol Hill to meet with their senators, representatives, and their staff members. They are scheduled to attend upwards of 250 meetings.

We’ve been extremely busy! Conference participants have been stopping by the Advocacy Information Table at the conference to pick up Capitol Hill Day Packets that contain information on each of the official Capitol Hill Day policy priorities. Advocates will then educate members of congress and their staff about the great work being done in their communities to solve homelessness, and explain the impact of these policy issues on their efforts.

If you’re unable to attend the conference, please keep an eye on this blog next month for a full report of the success of this year’s Capitol Hill Day. In the meantime, you can always check out last year’s report and get involved in the Alliance’s advocacy efforts by checking out our ongoing campaigns.

But if you ARE at the conference, we hope you plan to participate in Capitol Hill Day 2012! It couldn’t be any easier. Your state captains have been busy scheduling meetings. They just need YOU to participate! Stop by the Advocacy Information Table to get more information on how to get involved.

17th July
2012
written by Emanuel Cavallaro

This year will be a year of change for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and, by extension, for advocates and people working on behalf of people experiencing homelessness, said HUD’s acting assistant secretary for the Office of Community Planning and Development, Mark Johnston.

Speaking at the opening plenary session of the 2012 National Conference on Ending Homelessness on Monday, July 16, Assistant Secretary Johnston addressed what is perhaps the most significant piece of news circulating the conference, the release on Saturday, July 15 of the Continuum of Care interim regulations under the HEARTH Act.

Assistant Secretary Johnston reminded the nearly 1,500 practitioners, public officials, and advocates at the conference that the new regulations will alter how communities manage and distribute resources in the future, but will also provide communities with important tools that have the potential to strengthen prevention and rapid re-housing efforts.

He noted that the HEARTH was signed into law in 2009, the same year as the Recovery Act, which created the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP). Developing and implementing both policy initiatives have been a challenge for his agency, he said, but doing so has taught HUD officials a great deal about homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing.

“In retrospect, it was great timing,” he added.

HUD officials have incorporated lessons learned from  the implementation of HPRP into their regulations for the HEARTH act.

But Assistant Secretary Johnston also acknowledged the difficult fiscal environment in which agencies and advocates must operate. The funding for HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants, which had been growing year after year, he noted, has flattened out over the last several years.

“Funding…at federal, state and local levels is getting very, very tight, forcing us to become even more efficient and even more strategic,” he told the audience.

Assistant Secretary Johnston said he expects another HEARTH Act regulation for the Rural Housing Stability Program to be released sometime in the coming weeks.

In his remarks, Assistant Secretary Johnston also praised the interagency collaboration between HUD and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in the implementation of HUD – VA  Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers, which he said has helped put the nation on track to meeting the goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015.

Between 2009 and 2011, veteran homelessness decreased by 11 percent. Assistant Secretary Johnson noted the decline in veteran homelessness in recent years is “stunning,” particularly considering the economic situation.

“I worked for the VA for many, many years, and I can attest that we’ve had the strongest relationship in the last two to three years than we’ve ever had before,” he said.

16th July
2012
written by Norm Suchar

Just in time for our conference, HUD has published an interim rule for the new Continuum of Care program (CoC program). The regulations follow the HEARTH Act closely, so if you’ve read any of our material about the changes made by the HEARTH Act, you already know much of the story. However, there are a few new and interesting things.

First of all, the regulations provide a little more detail on what will be expected with coordinated assessment systems. Your CoC will have to develop a process that assesses people’s need for housing and services. There are numerous ways HUD will allow you to structure a coordinated assessment system, including having one centralized location where the assessments take place, using a 2-1-1 based system, or having multiple entry points. In addition to conducting the assessment, CoCs will have to have uniform process for evaluating eligibility for different types of assistance for determining how people will be prioritized for different types of assistance. We discuss a lot of these issues in our Coordinated Assessment Toolkit.

There are now two types of permanent housing–permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing. Permanent supportive will generally look and function as it does currently, however, there are a several changes. The match will be 25 percent cash or in-kind as it will be for all activities except for leasing, which has no match requirement. Projects will be allowed to get funding for rental assistance and services in the same grant. There are also numerous other changes to the development process, including the removal of the cap on how much can be used for capital expenses. Although many CoCs have used SHP grants to create rapid re-housing programs, the new CoC program will make that process much more simple and straightforward. Rapid re-housing funded through the CoC  program looks a lot like the rapid re-housing provided through the new Emergency Solutions Grant. I expect that a few existing transitional housing providers who utilize a transition in place model will find that their programs align better with a permanent housing-rapid re-housing grant.

There will now be funding available for planning and administration of the CoC. In most cases, it will be up to three percent of a CoCs final pro-rata need. For CoCs that decide to consolidate all of their grants into one, up to six percent will be available. Just because the regulations allow it doesn’t necessarily mean that Congress will provide enough funding to ensure that everybody gets the full amount, but this is a very welcome change. Along with this funding, HUD will be expecting a more formal structure for CoCs, including a formal board, and CoCs will have up to two years to establish a board if they haven’t already. In traveling to communities around the country, I have continually been reminded of how important good management and planning are to homeless assistance.

One of the things that wasn’t included in the interim regulation that we’ll see later on is more detail about performance measures and expectations. While the expected outcomes are defined in the HEARTH Act, the details about how the measures work will come later.

The regulations will go into effect 30 days from when they are published in the Federal Register, which should happen in the next few days. Nevertheless, there is still an opportunity to comment, and HUD frequently makes changes based on comments. The Alliance will develop comments, and I would encourage everybody who’s interested to do so as well. They make a big difference

Overall, these regulations are very good and fill in a lot of the important details for implementing the HEARTH Act. We’ll have more detailed analyses in the days and weeks to come.

 

12th July
2012
written by naehblog

Today’s post was written by Christian Brandt, Federal Policy Intern for the Alliance.

Chances are you’ve heard about the recent instances of violence against homeless people. These attacks are part of the often violent reality of life on the street. On Tuesday, July 10, the Congressional Caucus on Homelessness convened to discuss this growing trend of violence against people experiencing homelessness. Among the panelists were Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NCH), Richard Wierzbicki, Broward County Sheriff’s office captain, and David Pirtle, a man who himself was a victim of violence while living on the street. The panel was moderated by Neil Donovan, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless.

In the discussion that took place all panelists agreed that the reason such violent incidents have proliferated is the increasingly de-humanizing lens through which the public sees people experiencing homelessness. Evidence of this can be seen in the rash of so-called anti-homeless laws recently passed in Denver and throughout the country, which criminalize homelessness or make being homeless that much more difficult. These laws contribute to the perception that people experiencing homelessness are somehow less deserving of the dignity, rights and freedoms that people with permanent housing enjoy, a perception many of the perpetrators of anti-homeless violence appear to hold.

Between 1999 and 2010, NCH has documented 1,184 acts of violence by housed perpetrators against people experiencing homelessness.

Following a brief video featuring disturbing footage of attacks, which provided those in attendance with a visceral reminder of the trend of rising violence, Wierzbicki discussed his role in the passage of a piece of legislation in Florida that added homelessness to the state hate crimes law. The bill was inspired by a similar act passed in Maryland a year earlier. Then David Pirtle related his experience with several violent encounters during his period of homelessness, and Maria Foscarinis concluded with comments on current legislation being passed.

The panelists also heard remarks from Representatives Judy Biggert, Alcee Hastings, Geoff Davis, and Eddie Johnson, who are to be commended for launching the Congressional Caucus on Homelessness.

The discussion was not all bad news, however. Panelists lauded the recent passage of the Rhode Island Homeless Bill of Rights as a model for legislation granting more security and humanity to the state’s individuals without homes. Foscarinis emphasized, though, that these kinds of bills will not solve the problem of homelessness. Access to affordable housing, she reminded the panelists and audience, is the best way to help individuals exit homelessness.

The next critical step involves a discussion about how to end homelessness, and how legislation can ensure that individuals experiencing homelessness gain access to the services they so desperately need.

10th July
2012
written by Lisa Stand

What does the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act mean for communities poised to use new Medicaid funding to bolster their homeless assistance? First and foremost, communities have to engage more intensively with the state policymaking process – this, actually, was true before the ACA ruling came down. And it will be true no matter what the results of elections in November.

Since the decision, we now know that Medicaid will not expand nationally to cover virtually all uninsured people who earn less than $15,000. Therefore, the presumption no longer holds that virtually all people experiencing chronic homelessness will be able to enroll in Medicaid beginning in 2014. But states do have the option to expand in 2014, taking advantage of substantial federal Medicaid subsidies to do so. The ACA cannot require states to expand their programs, but still offers to pay them 90-100% of the cost of covering all uninsured adult citizens who earn around $15,000 or less annually.

Access to health care services – including behavioral health and recovery support – can be a key part of successful housing outcomes for the 107,000 people who experience chronic homelessness on any given night. Without funding for health care, many communities struggle for sustainable solutions – specifically, adequate permanent supportive housing (PSH), which is proven effective to address chronic homelessness. Since Congress passed the ACA in 2010, homeless assistance systems have anticipated the Medicaid expansion – to help individuals and to enhance safety net capacity.

Full Medicaid coverage will not be a “given” in every state. The Supreme Court ruling means additional challenges for the national agenda to end chronic homelessness by 2015. According to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, 60 percent of the nation’s chronically homeless population is concentrated in six states – California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, New York and Texas.  Four of these – California, Florida, Georgia and Texas – were projected to have the highest increases in Medicaid enrollment as a result of the ACA. Only two, New York and California, have indicated an intention to move forward with Medicaid expansion.

To see what might happen in your state, this map and this map from Think Progress are handy starting places.  A note of caution: There are many unknowns about how this part of ACA implementation will actually unfold. To name a few:

  • How many states will take up the expansion, despite what their governors said in the wake of the Supreme Court decision?
  • In the states that do expand, what services and supports will be covered?
  • Will ACA implementation really take place as soon as 2014?
  • Can a state opt in after 2014?

While these and other questions are sorted out, it is more important than ever for homeless advocates to inform state leaders and community partners in the full debate about health care priorities. The necessary policy choices to support communities will be steps that integrate housing, health care, and behavior health/recovery resources at the community level.

  • For chronically homeless populations, permanent housing is the first prescription, with person-centered services and supports to stabilize housing.
  • Opting into the ACA Medicaid expansion will bring federal resources directly to these vulnerable individuals – who otherwise are among the highest users of state and local safety net resources.
  • Failing to opt in means continued pressure on the capacity of state mental health programs and public safety operations.

Further, a number of promising Medicaid provisions remain in effect, including those meant to improve community supports for especially vulnerable enrollees, including those who are eligible because of a qualifying disability. These options were designed to be targeted to those most in need, and they tend to be less politicized. One example is the Medicaid health home. This optional benefit for people with severe mental illness (and other chronic conditions) pays for broadly-defined service coordination.

Several states, including New York, Missouri, Oregon and Rhode Island, have already opted to set up health homes. States can also offer home and community based services (HCBS) without applying for a federal waiver. In a recent proposed rule, Medicaid officials indicated that permanent support housing qualifies as a “community setting” for HCBS. Homeless advocates can join forces with advocates for older and disabled people, to press for their states to adopt these options in a way that adds to the capacity of homeless assistance.

Many states and communities have already embraced health care reform since the ACA passed in 2010. Often, homeless advocates have been at the table with Medicaid leaders, forging new strategies to integrate housing solutions with health care services to address chronic homelessness. The Alliance is paying close attention to successful new approaches and emerging best practices, especially in supportive housing. Speakers with hands-on experience and up-to-date policy knowledge will present on these topics at the July 16-18 National Conference on Ending Homelessness in Washington, DC.

2nd July
2012
written by Kate Seif

We’re all very busy getting ready for our upcoming National Conference on Ending Homelessness. Expect plenty of great workshops, pre-conference, and plenary sessions, and of course great speakers and presenters!

Along with our conference prep, we’ve been busy with appropriations, capacity building, and much more. In case you missed anything, here’s a breakdown of what we worked on in June:

Federal funding. In June, the Senate released its fiscal year (FY) 2013 funding bill for the Department of Health and Human Services. Compared to FY 2012 many programs were flat-funded, which is unfortunate given the increased need and the importance of programs such as the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act program. In view of the current fiscal environment in which Congress is operating, however, the fact that these programs continue to be funded at their present levels is a testament to their quality and the great work our advocates are doing.

In addition, the House voted on the FY 2013 funding bill for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  The results were a bit of a mixed bag, with many affordable and low-income housing and community development programs receiving increases. However, HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants received $2.005 billion in the final bill – an increase, but still not quite enough to cover all Continuum of Care renewals and Emergency Solutions Grant programs. Stay tuned to the Alliance’s advocacy work for more information on how we can secure an increase for these key programs and ensure that 25,000 people are not homeless rather than housed under this bill.

Family Intervention. We hosted a webinar on family intervention focused on building relationships and increasing stability for homeless and runaway youth. The webinar emphasized the importance of making an impact on homelessness among youth by reconnecting youth to stable family living situations.

Rapid Re-Housing Module. The Capacity Building team released a new rapid re-housing module focused on housing search and working with landlords. These modules are 15 minute presentations on how to master rapid re-housing. This module is part of an ongoing series.

If you can’t make it to our conference, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up on all the great content and best practices. Have a wonderful July (and a happy Independence Day!) and stay cool!

 

28th June
2012
written by Kate Seif

Yesterday, the House voted on the fiscal year (FY) 2013 funding bill for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The bill provides $2.05 billion for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants – a $104 million increase over the FY 2012 funding level. In this fiscal environment, this may seem like good news, but in reality, it creates a shortfall because of the fund distribution process. What this basically means for this funding cycle is that the increase would be insufficient to maintain the level of housing and services provided in 2012, and for 2013, approximately 25,000 people would be homeless instead of housed.

To really understand the funding implications, and how the distribution process works at the federal level, we need to delve a little deeper into what this funding level means.

Unfortunately, because of accounting issues, the approximately $100 million increase would actually mean less money for homeless assistance programs to spend. While it may be a bit confusing, this blog should help clear the air a bit on why, in FY 2013, what seems like more is actually less. Essentially, Congress is providing HUD with funding for housing and services up to several years before they are actually provided, and then once that cycle expires, it will cost more for HUD to continue the same level of spending on housing and services going forward.  Thus, the proposed FY 2013 funding level won’t cover what is already in place.

How it works:

Some of HUD’s Continuum of Care (CoC) grants initially operate under multi-year contracts. These renewals typically comprise most of the funding provided by Congress to McKinney programs each year. The annual funding appropriation from Congress is like a deposit into HUD’s checking account, to be paid out to providers over a certain number of years. In these CoC programs, all the funding for a multi-year contract is deposited into HUD’s bank account, if you will, in the first year of the contract. Each year, HUD distributes funds to providers from that initial deposit for the duration of the contract, so Congress does not need to provide any additional appropriations. When the initial contract expires and funds have dried up, in order to keep paying for the same level of services and housing, new money has to be put in HUD’s checking account. Thus, Congress must increase HUD’s budget authority in the appropriations bill so that spending under the Continuum of Care grants may continue at the same level as in the previous year. You can learn more about all the nitty-gritty details of the appropriations process here.

Okay, here’s an example:

Suppose HUD awarded $350,000 to a provider in FY 2008 for rent subsidies for people experiencing homelessness. Typically, under the law in effect at that time, HUD would be required to award five years’ worth of rent subsidies (for a five-year contract). Under congressional accounting rules, the entire $350,000 would be set aside from the FY 2008 appropriation to last for five years. In the first year, HUD would write $70,000 worth of checks to landlords for those housed, and $280,000 would remain. In each of the remaining four years of the contract, HUD would provide another $70,000 to the landlords out of the remaining funds, but Congress would not need to appropriate any additional funds for the project.

But by FY 2013, the money is gone, and those people are still living in their apartments and need their rent paid. Therefore, in FY 2013, HUD will need an additional $70,000 from Congress in the FY 2013 appropriations bill in order to continue to pay the landlords. Thus, HUD will spend the same amount of money in FY 2013 as in FY 2012 ($70,000), but the amount appropriated by Congress will be greater than in FY 2012. All subsequent renewals, after the initial contract expires, would be done through one-year contracts. So, the amount appropriated by Congress and the amount spent by HUD would be the same in FY 2013 and all future years. The following chart summarizes how federal funding would be made available for this one project:


As a result, Congress could provide an increase in appropriations in FY 2013 (such as the House bill does – about a $100 million increase), while still having an end result that the number of people served and contracts supported see a cut in funding. There’s not enough of that $100 million increase to go around among all these programs already housing and assisting people. Under the House’s proposal, some existing programs just won’t get funded, or won’t be fully funded at the same level as they have been.

So, as I said earlier, this basically means the increase would be insufficient to maintain the level of housing and services provided in 2012. As a result, approximately 25,000 people would be homeless instead of housed.

For FY 2013, the Senate provided $2.145 billion for McKinney – enough for all renewals and $286 million for the Emergency Solutions Grant program, though it’s still not as much as the $2.231 billion requested by the President. To avoid what we have estimated as an approximately 5 percent across-the-board cut to CoC funding, Congress must provide a greater increase in McKinney funding than the House did.

Help us make sure that Congress knows that letting 25,000 people be homeless instead of housed would be unacceptable! Urge them to provide $2.231 – the amount requested by the President – for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants. Act now!

21st June
2012
written by Kate Seif

Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee announced its funding levels for key programs serving low-income and homeless people within the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor, and Education (yes, it’s quite a big bill!). To cut to the chase, many of the programs on which the Alliance works and on which people experiencing homelessness rely, including SAMHSA Homeless Services, Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) programs, Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH), and the Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) program, along with many other programs, would receive the same amount of funding in fiscal year (FY) 2013 under the Senate’s proposal as they do in FY 2012.

Many of these programs, – especially RHYA programs – have seen several years of flat funding in a row – despite increased need, despite a bad economy that continues to fare poorly month after month, and despite the program’s target population: our nation’s most vulnerable young people.

In recognition that flat funding is not enough, the Alliance has made RHYA and SAMHSA two of its top priorities for Capitol Hill Day this year.  We are hoping to bring these two issues, and a handful of others, to the forefront of congressional offices’ minds and educate as many Members of Congress as possible on the importance of these key programs.  We’ve got loads of materials to help participants prepare, and our State Captains are in the process of setting meetings up with key Members (in the House and Senate). But in order to make the biggest impact, we need you!!

If you’re planning on coming to the National Conference on Ending Homelessness (in less than a month’s time!), join us as we make sure that Congress knows the impact of these programs and hears loud and clear from all of you that flat funding is not enough! We are working extra hard this year to ensure that youth providers play a big role in Capitol Hill Day, so get involved! Reach out to us or your State Captains to find out how we can work together to ensure that these programs are not forgotten!

14th June
2012
written by Steve Berg

Originally only in the wonky DC-based policy blogs, but increasingly also in the mainstream media, the phrase “fiscal cliff” has been appearing. It describes a number of simultaneous events scheduled for the beginning of 2013 that together would disrupt the federal budget, cutting federal spending and raising taxes in an unprecedented and clumsy manner. What does it mean, in general and for homelessness in particular? This blog will attempt to answer that question.

To start, with the way things usually go in the mainstream media, you can virtually count on the phrase “fiscal cliff” soon being abbreviated by writers, so I’ll get that over with by coining the word “FisCliff” right here. FisCliff consists of at least the following, all happening around the beginning of next year:

  • Domestic and military spending for nonexempt discretionary programs is cut across the board under the “sequestration” provision of the Budget Control Act;
  • Emergency unemployment insurance for long-term unemployed people expires;
  • The “Bush tax cuts” (since extended under President Obama) expire;
  • The Alternative Minimum Tax is applied to households with lower incomes than those who must pay it currently;
  • Monthly payroll taxes go back up to their usual levels;
  • Miscellaneous other tax breaks worth $65 billion per year expire;
  • Temporary increases in Medicare payments to doctors expire; and
  • The limit on the federal debt is reached again, as it was last summer, requiring another expansion.

All of this adds up to $483 billion in revenue increases and spending cuts in one year. This is big-time deficit reduction, but done in a way that’s not necessarily very intelligent. The most relevant example is that sequestration cuts high-priority, extremely effective programs (like homelessness programs!) by exactly the same percentage as lower-priority, inefficient programs.

Probably the biggest single negative impact on homelessness, however, is likely to be the impact on a fragile economy. Economists largely agree that raising taxes and reducing spending that much in one year would make joblessness substantially worse – people would have less money to spend, so businesses would have fewer customers and would lay people off. High unemployment over the past several years has sent millions of people to shelters. More unemployment means more bad news for homeless assistance systems.

As noted before, spending cuts under sequestration would negatively impact homelessness programs.  The exact impact is still unclear because Congress has not yet passed final fiscal year 2013 spending levels, but we believe a likely estimate is that about 150,000 people would be homeless instead of housed, just from the impact on the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) and the Continuum of Care (CoC) programs. The large antipoverty entitlement programs like SSI, TANF, and SNAP are exempt, as are all VA programs for veterans – there is still an open question, to be resolved by the White House, whether the HUD rent vouchers under the HUD-VASH program are exempt.  Otherwise, all HUD programs are subject to the across-the-board cuts of sequestration.

One thing to remember about FisCliff is that the word “cliff” probably implies a suddenness of impact that will not be evident. Tax cuts and spending increases would go into effect over time. HUD’s Homeless Assistance programs are one example. Reductions in ESG would take place when contracts for 2013 are signed, which occurs in different places over the course of the year. For the CoC programs, the impact would not be felt until the 2013 awards are distributed in early 2014.

In other words, if Congress meets after the election, in a so-called “lame duck session,” and can’t pass a reasonable alternative to FisCliff by January 1, they should keep working!

And what will a “reasonable alternative” look like? For those concerned about homelessness and similar issues, key criteria are:

  • First, do no harm to the economy, particularly employment at the low end of the job market. With HPRP running out, the fight to end homelessness will get a lot harder if joblessness gets worse.
  • Protect the poorest Americans. So far, the biggest antipoverty programs are exempt from sequestration, with the notable and unfortunate exception of HUD housing programs.
  • Resist further cuts to non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending. This is actually the focus of a new national “coalition of coalitions” that had its first meeting last week – for more information click here. This coalition is circulating an organizational sign-on letter, and the Alliance encourages you to join by next Friday, June 22.
  • Prioritize what works.  Across-the-board cuts almost always represent bad, lazy policymaking. Congress has the ability to figure out which programs really work, and it is irresponsible to act otherwise.

As you can see, FisCliff would greatly harm our efforts to end homelessness, so we must educate Congress on these impacts. As a result, advocates from across the country will educate their Members of Congress about these very issues during Capitol Hill Day 2012, held in conjunction with the Alliance’s annual National Conference on Ending Homelessness in July in Washington, DC. For more information or to get involved in Capitol Hill Day, contact Kate Seif.

 

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