By Sheila Crowley, President & CEO, National Low Income Housing Coalition
On May 13, the Appropriations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives approved the FY16 bill to fund the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (THUD) that fails to address the pressing housing, transportation, and infrastructure needs facing the country, much less adequately fund existing programs. The vote was 100% partisan, with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats voting against the bill.
Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) repeatedly stated that Committee simply was following the law as dictated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 and blamed the tight numbers on sequestration. Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY) countered that the budget constraints were self-inflicted by Congress and said the Committee was considering “make-believe bills,” She called on Congress to end sequestration or at least limit it as Congress did in 2013 with the Murray-Ryan agreement.
Several Democrats offered amendments to increase allocations to key housing and transportation programs without offering offsets (cuts to other programs under the bill). All were voted down along party lines, with Republicans asserting it would be illegal to exceed the budget caps.
An amendment offered by THUD Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member David Price (D-NC) tried to increase the allocation to several capital programs to address the aging housing stock and shortage of affordable rental housing for very low and extremely low income households. Representative Price’s amendment also included a provision to restore funding to the National Housing Trust Fund, which the bill raided to make up for cutting the HOME program. Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) offered a stand-alone amendment that would protect the dedicated revenue for the National Housing Trust Fund and increase funding for the HOME program to $1.060 billion, the amount requested in the President’s budget.
In offering her amendment, Ms. Lee said, “Using the National Housing Trust Fund to plus up the HOME program is like robbing Peter to pay Paul and it consigns many of the most vulnerable families to homelessness. This issue is extremely important to my district. In 2014, rental prices in my hometown of Oakland, California grew faster than any other area in the nation. Additionally, from 2012-2013, the median home price jumped 76 percent. Instead of robbing one program to support another, Congress should invest greater resources in housing assistance so that all families have a place to call home.”
In a May 12 letter to Chairman Rogers and Ranking Member Lowey, I said “The Subcommittee was under severe constraints, which unfortunately is inherent in all appropriations work since the enactment of the Budget Control Act and the advent of sequestration. However, the solution should not be to resort to budget gimmicks such as raiding the NHTF to make up for lost appropriated funds. The solution is for Congress to lift the caps imposed by sequestration and properly fund all discretionary programs.”
In the guise of just following the law, Republican House appropriators passed a THUD appropriations bill that ignores the rental housing crisis facing millions of hardworking Americans and vulnerable seniors and people with disabilities. The House Appropriations Committee cannot repeal sequestration on their own. But they have the power to pass a bill that ignores the caps and sends the message to the rest of the Congress that they won’t deal in “make-believe bills” and shirk their responsibility as appropriators.