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A Tale of Two Bills

June 27, 2013 at 4:34 PM
BY
Douglas Rice

Families that need housing assistance have been hit hard in recent years, as sequestration has deepened cuts to low-income housing and community development programs that the President and Congress made in 2011 and 2012.  Recognizing the harm caused by mindless sequestration cuts, both chambers of Congress approved their own 2014 budget plans earlier this year to replace it.  But, the funding bills that the House and Senate appropriations committees approved today for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) show that their overall budget plans are miles apart — and families that need assistance have a lot at stake in how this gap is bridged.

Recent cuts have fallen on rental assistance and community development programs (see chart).  In 2013, for example, total funding for HUD’s three major rental assistance programs — the Housing Choice Voucher, Public Housing, and Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance programs — is $3.6 billion, or nearly 10 percent, below the 2010 level, adjusted for inflation.  Meanwhile, states and localities have lost $1.2 billion (28 percent) in annual Community Development Block Grant (CDGB) funding and $1.0 billion (51 percent) in annual HOME funds.

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Because of these cuts, tens of thousands of low-income families won’t get the housing assistance they need to avoid homelessness and other hardships.  While policymakers have recognized sequestration’s harm, however, the House and Senate proposals couldn’t be more different.

The House budget plan replaces sequestration with even deeper cuts in non-defense discretionary programs — including low-income housing and community development programs — while increasing funding for defense.  In line with this plan, the House HUD funding bill would lock in cuts in housing voucher assistance for more than 100,000 low-income families — nearly all of which include seniors, people with disabilities, or children — and cut funding for public housing, CDBG, and HOME to historically low levels, as we recently explained.

In contrast, the Senate HUD funding bill rolls back sequestration cuts and restores badly needed assistance to low-income families and communities (although funding in some areas would remain well below the 2010 level).  It can protect these critical safety net programs for low-income families because it is part of the Senate’s more balanced, yet fiscally responsible approach to addressing budget challenges.

The Senate bill would, for example:

  • Restore funding for most of the up to 140,000 Housing Choice vouchers that will be lost under sequestration.  (The President’s budget request for voucher renewals, which provides $400 million more for voucher renewals than the Senate bill, would restore all of the voucher assistance cut by sequestration.)
  • Roll back the deep cuts in homeless assistance, restoring Emergency Solutions Grant funding, for example, to help local communities prevent homelessness and provide housing assistance to homeless individuals and families.
  • Provide more adequate funding to operate and repair public housing, while also reversing the sequestration cuts in CDBG, HOME, and other HUD programs.


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