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Senate Bill Reverses Sequestration Cuts to Housing Programs

The Senate will vote tomorrow on whether to consider legislation to reverse most of the sequestration cuts to housing assistance next year, part of its approach of rolling back sequestration for defense and non-defense discretionary programs alike.

Our new report — with state-by-state data — contrasts the Senate funding bill for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with its House counterpart, which would deepen the sequestration cuts to some housing programs.

As we’ve explained, this year’s sequestration cut will likely force state and local housing agencies to cut the number of low-income families using Housing Choice Vouchers by up to 140,000 by early next year.  That’s a sharp break from Congress’ bipartisan commitment over most of the program’s nearly 40-year history to renew assistance for at least the same number of families from year to year.

The Senate bill would restore most of those lost vouchers (see graph).  The House bill, in contrast, would lock in the elimination of vouchers for nearly 100,000 low-income families in 2014, roughly three-quarters of the number of those likely to be cut due to sequestration in 2013.

In public housing, which has been hit hard by three rounds of cuts since 2010, the Senate bill would provide a modest increase over this year’s post-sequestration level, whereas the House bill would cut it another 16 percent.

And, whereas the Senate bill would reverse this year’s sequestration cuts to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME block grant, the House bill would slash these programs below this year’s post-sequestration level by 47 and 26 percent, respectively.  CDBG and HOME funds help states and localities perform a host of important activities, including building and preserving affordable housing, improving damaged streets, sewers, and water systems in low-income neighborhoods, and providing community services to seniors and youth.

The Senate bill remains frugal.  Funding for most HUD programs would remain far below 2010 levels, adjusted for inflation (see this chart), even though the need for rental assistance has grown substantially.

A clear majority of senators support the bill, but it will likely need 60 votes to pass, including a number of Republicans, and it’s unclear how many Republicans will vote for it given differences between the parties over whether to replace sequestration with a balanced deficit-reduction package.  Moreover, Congress must resolve the differences between the House and Senate bills over the next several months.

Low-income families needing housing assistance — who have been hit hard by sequestration — have a lot at stake in the outcome.