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House Republican Bill Would Force Deep Cuts in Housing Assistance, Harming Families, Older Adults, and People with Disabilities

The House Republican debt-ceiling-and-cuts bill would, among other things, impose severe cuts on discretionary funding amounting to $3.6 trillion over the next ten years. If defense and veterans’ health care are protected from cuts, as House Republicans have pledged, these cuts would result in an estimated 2 million people being left without the rental assistance they need to obtain or maintain stable housing, based on estimates by the Biden Administration that assume remaining programs are cut across the board. This assistance is highly effective at reducing homelessness and housing instability and lifts millions of people above the poverty line. As such, the House Republican bill would exacerbate the current homelessness crisis and increase hardship for families across the country.

Nearly all housing and homelessness programs receive discretionary funding and require annual, inflation-related increases to sustain current levels of assistance, which already only reach a small fraction of those in need due to funding limitations. The House Republican bill would impose austere caps on annual appropriations (often called “discretionary funding”), which cover a variety of critical areas, including defense; veterans’ health care; and other non-defense programs, such as rental assistance, K-12 and higher education, medical research, environmental protection, federal law enforcement, and many others.

The House bill sets overall discretionary funding in 2024 some $226 billion below what is needed to maintain 2023 services adjusted for inflation and related factors. House Republicans have said repeatedly that they will shield defense and veterans’ medical care from cuts, which would require the full $226 billion in cuts to be borne by the two-fifths of the discretionary budget outside of defense and veterans’ medical care — the portion that includes housing assistance. This would require a 33 percent cut in 2024.

Moreover, the cuts grow deeper over time under the House Republican bill. If defense and veterans’ medical care are protected from cuts throughout the decade, the cuts to everything else would reach 59 percent in 2033, which would inevitably lead to a drastic reduction in the number of people receiving federal rental assistance.

The cuts called for in the House bill would destabilize households and exacerbate the existing housing and homelessness crises. The Biden Administration estimates that if Congress applied the cut needed to comply with the austere caps to all programs except defense and then cut all other programs — including veterans’ medical care — by the same percentage, 640,000 fewer households (about 1.4 million people) would receive Housing Choice Vouchers, the largest rental assistance program, in 2024. When combined with Administration estimates for other federal rental assistance programs, a total of 989,000 fewer households — or about 2 million fewer people — would get assistance.

Most of those who would be left without assistance are older adults, children, or people with disabilities. Housing agencies would also have fewer resources to maintain public housing, leading to unsafe living conditions for more than 1.6 million residents, and homelessness assistance programs would serve at least 119,000 fewer people.

A more recent analysis from the Biden Administration estimates that if veterans and Homeland Security programs were also protected from the cuts needed to reach the cap, the cuts in Housing Choice Vouchers alone would result in 800,000 households, or nearly 1.8 million people, being left without assistance, including cuts to vouchers targeted to veterans, foster youth, families, and people with disabilities. Because this is just one of several federal rental assistance programs, the overall number of people who would lose rental assistance would be much higher — well over 2 million.

These estimates are for the first year of the proposed caps. To serve the same number of people, rental assistance requires annual increases to cover inflation-related costs. In fact, rent and utility inflation has been higher than overall inflation in recent decades. As a result, the number of people left without assistance would likely be several times higher by 2033, leading to even greater numbers of evictions and a devastating deterioration of public housing and the homelessness services system.

Importantly, cuts to rental assistance and other economic security programs have real, far-reaching impacts on people’s lives. Rental assistance and homelessness assistance programs provide or connect people to stable housing; cutting funding for them would take away vital assistance that families need to stay housed and drastically reduce services that help people experiencing homelessness obtain housing.

Already, these programs do not come close to meeting the existing need. Only 1 in 4 households eligible for rental assistance receive it, and an estimated 583,000 people were experiencing homelessness on a single night in January 2022 — about 40 percent of whom were in unsheltered locations with no safe place to eat, shower, or peacefully rest.

Additionally, because of long-standing inequities stemming from structural racism in housing, education, and employment, Black, Latine, Asian and Pacific Islander, and American Indian and Alaska Native people are disproportionately impacted by the lack of investment in affordable housing. Specifically, people who identify as Black comprised only 12 percent of the total U.S. population in 2022 but 37 percent of people experiencing homelessness. Such racial inequities would only be exacerbated with reduced funding. Housing is a necessity and a human right. Cutting programs that help people live in safe homes will unnecessarily put people’s well-being and safety at risk.

The Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA), in effect from 2012 to 2021, shows the impact that caps like those in the House Republican bill can have on rental assistance programs and the people they help. That law established austere spending caps that resulted in fewer households receiving needed assistance because of restricted funding. Even though Congress raised spending caps in later years during this period, allowing for modest increases in rental assistance overall, housing assistance programs lost nearly $15 billion in discretionary funding over the ten years of the legislation (this excludes emergency, pandemic-related funding).

By 2014, nearly 100,000 fewer households — including about 240,000 people — were receiving housing vouchers than before the BCA-related cuts, despite rising rents and stagnant wages for the majority of renters. More people experienced some form of housing instability as a result of these cuts, from making tough choices between paying for rent or other necessities to sleeping on the street or other unsafe places.