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2nd February
2012
written by Kate Seif

Budget buzz words: Debt ceiling, sequestration, President’s Proposal, budget resolution… the list goes on. What does it all mean? Today on the blog, Kate attempts to simplify, explain, and perhaps even entertain!

Somewhat fun fact:  In 1921, President Warren G. Harding signed the Budget and Accounting Act into law, which, among other things, requires that the President submit a budget proposal to Congress every year prior to the beginning of the next fiscal year (beginning October 1). Harding may have presided over a series of scandals you had to learn about in high school, but he still certainly knew that the “power of the purse” lays with Congress.  But still, 91 years later, we find ourselves a few days before the Obama Administration releases the President’s Budget Proposal (PBP) for fiscal year (FY) 2013.

Why?

The PBP matters, because it’s the executive branch’s chance to show, in dollars, what they think is working, what’s not, and what we need to do more, less, adjust, and so on. The PBP pitches new ideas and gives Members of Congress (and advocates!) a place to start when they create their “asks” for the congressional budget process. Put simply, how your programs fare in the PBP is generally a good indicator of how the Administration feels about your program and how Congress may choose to proceed. Receiving an increase in the PBP is good news. It means the Administration thinks your program works, and that it’s worth expanding. A decrease in the PBP – that usually means the opposite.

This year, we all know that the White House and Congress are divided more than ever (this is probably where every President ever begs to differ), but with the Budget Control Act of 2011 firmly in place, the PBP may matter more than ever. The Act has already set overall spending caps for FY 2013 and the overall amount of money being spent is usually the issue that causes the most conflict. The President typically proposes one amount, the House wants another amount, and the Senate a third amount. It can take a while to resolve the differences. Since the law has already settled that particular issue, the PBP may mean that it will be a closer reflection than normal of the decisions Congress ultimately decides to make.

Unfortunately, this could mean bad news for our programs. As advocates, and those interested or invested in programs aimed at preventing or ending homelessness, we must be prepared for not great, maybe even bad, news.  The funding caps set by the Budget Control Act will keep the amount of overall funding almost exactly identical to FY 2012 (without taking inflation into account).

Adding yet another layer to the budget complexity this year, is sequestration (…still with me?). Sequestration is fancy word for the automatic cuts triggered by the failure of the Super-Committee (remember them?), set to go into effect January 2013. Many people are opposed to sequestration and the deep (9 percent!) cuts it will inflict on the vast majority of programs within the federal budget.  The President is widely expected to include an alternative to sequestration in the PBP. Now, since we all know Congress does not always do what the President wants, and since the details of the President’s alternative are still under wraps, it remains unclear whether sequestration will remain, change, get better, or even get worse. We must move forward in 2012 planning for the worst and advocating for the best.

All these technicalities and traditions come together this year to make 2012 and the FY 2013 budget a big deal. While the picture may look grim for federal spending, we still can make a difference. (Really, we can!)

Join the Alliance in 2012 to ensure that the programs we care about, like McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants, Runaway and Homeless Youth Act Programs, Section 8, SAMHSA Homeless Services and many, many more, do not get lost in the budget shuffle. Together, we CAN impact the big picture, and we CAN make sure that the President, the Administration, and yes, even Congress do not forget that efforts to balance the budget and reduce federal spending cannot happen on the backs of our nation’s most vulnerable people, those at risk of or experiencing homelessness.  To get involved and learn even more about the PBP, sign up for our webinar, taking place on Wednesday, February 15 at 1pm ET.

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