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Housing Aid a Rare Bright Spot in Senate Funding Bills, But More Needed

The Senate Appropriations Committee-approved bill to fund the departments of Transportation as well as Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides enough resources to continue assisting the 5 million low-income seniors, families with children, and others who rely on federal rental assistance to afford a decent, stable place to live. It’s a rare bright spot among the Senate’s 2020 funding bills, which shortchange areas such as health, job training, and education as well as Social Security operations and IRS tax enforcement. But several important House-passed provisions also merit inclusion in the final Transportation-HUD funding bill.

As we’ve explained, this summer’s bipartisan budget agreement boosted overall funding for non-defense discretionary (NDD) programs over the 2019 level. Though the Senate Appropriations Committee’s allocations among its 12 funding bills generally disfavor the bills funding human service programs, the Transportation-HUD bill prioritizes areas with the greatest positive impact on low-income families. Its $56.1 billion for HUD programs is $2.3 billion above the 2019 level, or a $968 million increase after adjusting for inflation. It includes:

  • A $2 billion total increase over 2019 for the nation’s two largest rental assistance programs: Housing Choice Vouchers Housing Choice Vouchers Housing Choice Vouchersand Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance. These programs help 3.4 million low-income households — mainly seniors, people with disabilities, and families with children — pay the rent and make ends meet. The funding increases are needed to cover rising rental costs and avert cuts in the number of assisted households. The bill also includes $20 million to create more than 2,000 new Family Unification Program vouchers for young people who have left foster care and risk becoming homeless and $40 million to create roughly 4,500 new vouchers for homeless veterans. (Figures in these bullets aren’t adjusted for inflation.)
  • An $80 million increase for the Public Housing Capital Fund, which helps cover repairs and upgrades in public housing developments, such as fixing leaking roofs and replacing outdated heating systems. Public housing provides affordable homes to nearly 1 million low-income households, mostly seniors and people with disabilities. But it faced an estimated $26 billion repair backlog in 2010 and the figure is almost certainly much greater today. Addressing this backlog is essential to improving residents’ living conditions and preserving this critical source of affordable housing for the long term.
  • A $125 million increase in Homeless Assistance Grants. Communities use these funds mainly for rental assistance to enable homeless individuals and families to move from shelters or the street into stable, more affordable homes.
  • $25 million for housing aid for people recovering from a substance use disorder. This would enable HUD to implement an important new initiative that the President and Congress authorized when they approved the SUPPORT Act a year ago.

Policymakers should include these provisions in the final 2020 funding bill.

They should also include several provisions in the House-passed Transportation-HUD bill to further expand housing aid for the nation’s most vulnerable people and support recipients’ efforts to work and give their children a better chance to succeed. These investments would make more vouchers available to at-risk families with children, double the size of the innovative Housing Voucher Mobility Demonstration, provide more funding to renovate and preserve public housing through the Capital Fund and Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, expand the Family Self-Sufficiency Program, and further increase Homeless Assistance Grants.

To make these investments, policymakers will need to give HUD a larger share of total NDD funding than the Senate Appropriations Committee did. (The House-passed Transportation-HUD bill provides $1.45 billion more for HUD programs than the Senate bill.) But that, too, should be a high priority.