Congressional Gridlock Delays Criminal Justice Reform

Criminal Justice, Child Welfare, Mental Health Reform and Budget Delayed

Congress returned from recess at the beginning of September and has been focused on passing a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government for Fiscal Year 2017, through December 9, 2016 and not on passage of criminal justice reform.

In order to comply with the Budget Control Act, the proposed bill involves slight across the board cuts but, otherwise programs will continue to be funded at their current levels.

After passing the CR, Congress plans to adjourn earlier than expected. Despite strong signals before the August recess that the House was going to vote on a criminal justice reform package and the Senate on child welfare reform and mental health reform, none of those things now look likely to get floor time.

After the election there will be just 10 working days left in the legislative session but elected officials are more likely to be willing to make deals once they know the political landscape for the next session of Congress.

When Congress finally does take up appropriations, they will be working with the following numbers for programs of interest to supportive housing advocates:

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) mental health for the homeless programs: $49 million increase to SAMHSA for opioids treatment, prevention, and overdose reversal and $30 million increase for the Mental Health Block Grant. Level funding for homeless programs.
  • Veterans Administration Supportive Housing (VASH): $57 million for new vouchers in the Senate (of which $7 million is for tribal VASH). The House only included the $7 million for tribal VASH.
  • Family Unification Program (FUP): $20 million for new vouchers in the Senate, targeted at youth aging out of foster care. $0 in the House. The Senate bill also included report language containing several provisions we have been pursuing, such as widening the age range to 14-24, extending the timeline to 36 months, and directing the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop guidance and training materials to improve connections between housing and child welfare agencies, and remove barriers to access.
  • Tenant-Based Rental Assistance (Section 8): The Senate has proposed $18.36 billion, plus $11 million for a voucher mobility demonstration. The House has proposed $18.31 billion. The Administration budget proposed $18.45 billion. Administrative fees are below the Administration’s request of $2.08 billion, at $1.77 billion in the Senate and $1.65 billion in the House. No new vouchers would be funded under any of these proposals.
  • McKinney-Vento: The Senate proposed $2.33 billion, which would cover renewals and the Youth Homelessness Demonstration described below. The House increased the Homeless Assistance Grants account by $157 million over the Senate’s number, for a total $2.487 billion allocation. We think that this is in recognition of the fact that, in the recent Continuum of Care (Co) funding round, HUD majorly shifted money toward high performing projects, which Republicans had been asking for. However, key districts lost funding in the reallocation, so the House targeted $40 million in Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) formula grant funding towards “communities that lost significant capacity.” Both of these are less than the Administration’s proposed $2.664 billion, which would have included funding for an additional 25,000 units of supportive housing to end chronic homelessness.
  • Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project (YDHP): $40 million in the Senate for testing strategies to end youth homelessness, out of a total Homeless Assistance Grants allocation of $2.33 million. $0 in the House. HUD recently released the first round of YHDP grants and CSH program staff are helping their communities develop proposals.
  • United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) Reauthorization: The USICH sunsets in 2017. The Senate reauthorized it; the House did not. This is a key issue that will need to be worked out in conference.
  • Section 811: Both chambers matched the President’s request of $154 million, up from $151 last year. This represents renewal funding.
  • HOME: Both chambers matched the President’s request of $950 million, level with last year.
  • CDBG: The House offered level funding from last year, $3.06 billion, and the Senate offered $3.0 billion, both greater than the President’s request of $2.88 billion.
  • Social Innovation Fund (SIF): $50 million (same as last year) in House budget, zero in Senate budget. The Senate number is particularly concerning because it passed on a bipartisan basis, meaning a number of Democratic Senators did not fight for SIF.  In further discussions with committee staff, we remain concerned that SIF funding will not be added back in conference. We have been working with our SIF sub-grantees to showcase their efforts and make the case for SIF funding.

In other news, our friends at CSH will launch their One Roof Campaign in October. This campaign to expand supportive housing for child welfare involved families will have local, state, and federal policy components.

Based on examples from California and New Mexico, CSH has drafted template legislation for states to create their own child welfare supportive housing programs. The policy agenda includes child welfare reform, expansion of housing subsidies, and funding for services after child welfare has stepped back.

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