Unable to reach agreement on amendment procedures with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pulled H.R. 4660, the “minibus” appropriations package, from consideration on the Senate floor on June 19. The bill includes FY15 appropriations for HUD and the Department of Transportation, as well as the USDA and Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bills. The House passed its FY15 HUD spending bill on June 10 (see Memo, 6/13).
The bill is stalled until agreement can be reached on which amendments can be offered and what vote thresholds (50 or 60) will be used for adoption of those amendments. The controversy is rooted in the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempts to regulate the coal industry. Senate Committee on Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) pushed strongly for passage of the bill. She has championed a return to “regular order” for the FY15 appropriations cycle, with bills passed by their respective chambers in time to be considered in conference committee before the October 1 start of the new fiscal year.
“It has been three years since we were able to bring an appropriations bill to the floor. I am not going to go into all the reasons why. ‘Why’ doesn’t get the job done. What we need to do is return to regular order. So what does that mean? Today we have these three bills pending. It means we want to enact all of our appropriations bills by October 1. We want to keep government operating not on autopilot, not on shutdown, nor on lavish spending,” Senator Mikulski said on the Senate floor on June 18.
On June 17, the White House issued its Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) on the bill, taking issue with the bill’s funding level of the Housing Choice Voucher program and homelessness assistance programs, but praising the bill’s expansion of the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) and level funding of the HOME program.
On June 18, the Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding (CHCDF) sent a letter to Senate appropriators, thanking them for their work on the bill, but urging that additional funding be identified for HUD programs. The letter thanks the appropriators for avoiding the deep cuts to many HUD programs made in the House bill but says, “under difficult fiscal constraints and with HUD’s funding level held almost flat compared to FY 2014, it will be difficult to continue progress being made to reduce homelessness, create additional affordable housing opportunities, and preserve existing affordable housing without additional resources.”
Three amendments that NLIHC opposes were filed before floor consideration ended. These amendments may resurface when the Senate takes up the bill again.
Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) filed an amendment that would prohibit HUD funds from being used to finalize and implement its Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing regulation. The regulation imposes no new obligations, but explains in greater detail the options that localities have for living up to the fair housing commitments they have already made. A similar amendment was adopted by the House during its consideration of its HUD appropriations bill.
Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Rob Portman (R-OH) filed an amendment to expand the Moving to Work (MTW) demonstration program to up to ten additional public housing agencies (PHAs), potentially deregulating a combined 600,000 public housing units and housing vouchers. It is NLIHC’s position that any expansion of MTW must include major reforms and data collection requirements, and should only be done under the jurisdiction of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. The lack of data to assess the MTW demonstration has been cited repeatedly as a material weakness of the program by HUD’s Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office.
Senator David Vitter’s (R-LA) amendment would prohibit the Census Bureau from spending funds on the 2020 Census unless it includes questions regarding U.S. citizenship and immigration status. Funding for the Census is provided by the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill. Senator Vitter offered a similar amendment prior to the 2010 Census, with the stated intent of trying to exclude non-citizens and undocumented residents from the Census population counts used for Congressional apportionment. Not only is this proposal likely unconstitutional, it would jeopardize the accuracy of the 2020 Census by discouraging immigrants, documented and undocumented, and their families from participating in the Census.
The extra time afforded by the stall in Senate appropriations action gives advocates the opportunity to urge their Senators to oppose adoption of any other objectionable amendments similar to those that were adopted by the House, but not filed before consideration of the Senate bill ended. These include:
• Any amendment that would prohibit HUD from using funds to implement or administer the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF). Although the NHTF is to be funded by dedicated sources not subject to appropriations, the program is to be managed by HUD, which will distribute NHTF dollars as block grants to states. Enactment of such an amendment would make it impossible for HUD to issue final NHTF program rules and to administer the funds to states. Representative Ed Royce (R-CA) successfully offered such an amendment to the House HUD FY15 bill.
• Any amendment that would restrict or prohibit rents for Housing Choice Voucher families above 120% of the areawide "fair market rent" (FMR). Such an amendment would serve to exclude low income voucher families from low-poverty communities in some of the nation’s most segregated metropolitan regions. The HUD procedure for higher "exception payment standards" has careful controls in place and has worked where it is needed to give families access to higher opportunity communities. Representative Aaron Schock (R-IL) successfully offered this amendment to the House HUD FY15 bill.
• Any amendment that would prohibit the use of HUD funds to repay any loan made, guaranteed, or insured by HUD. Such an amendment could result in defaults of more than 25% of the project-based rental assistance portfolio and stop Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) conversions where financing is provided by the Federal Housing Administration. Such an amendment could also imperil the Section 108 Loan Guarantee program. Section 108 of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program allows jurisdictions to apply to HUD for a loan guarantee for large-scale projects. Under Section 108, a jurisdiction pledges up to five years’ worth of its annual CDBG entitlement amount as security for the loan guarantee. Because a Section 108 loan guarantee is backed 100% by the full faith and credit of the United States, investors are willing to accept lower returns resulting in a reduced cost of borrowing. In general, project revenues, not CDBG, are intended to repay the conventional loan. However, if project revenues are not sufficient to meet debt repayments, a portion of a jurisdiction’s annual CDBG entitlement is diverted to make up for the insufficient project revenues. If such an amendment were to become law, it would risk the future of the Section 108 Loan Guarantee program as the statutorily-required pledge of CDBG funds appropriated in FY15 would become meaningless. Representative Ron DeSantis (R-FL) successfully offered this amendment to the House HUD FY15 bill.
There is little or no chance that the HUD FY15 appropriations bill, or the minibus package, will be considered on the Senate floor before the July 4 Senate recess.