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.