The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) passed its FY15 appropriations bill without amendments by voice vote on June 3. The full Senate Committee on Appropriations approved the THUD spending bill on June 5 by a vote of 29-1. Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) was the lone dissenting vote. Senator Johanns stated that he would vote against any appropriations bill that would increase spending over the FY14 level. The THUD Appropriations bill is $3.4 billion over that level. The full Senate will consider the bill in the near future.
At the Subcommittee mark-up, Subcommittee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) said that the bill “helps protect the most vulnerable among us.” Senator Murray thanked Senate Committee on Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) for THUD’s 302(b) allocation and noted that because of that allocation “we are fortunate to avoid the much deeper cuts” made to THUD programs by the House Committee on Appropriations bill, H.R. 4745 (see Memo, 5/23).
“We were faced with difficult decisions to ensure transportation and housing funding was prioritized to meet the most essential and critical needs,” said Subcommittee Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME) in her opening statement.
At the mark-up, Senator Mikulski commented, “In my own home state, the waiting list for housing assistance is astounding because for people who work for minimum wage, when a full time job means full time poverty, they need to have help with housing as well as food. If you don’t want to pay for Section 8, then raise the minimum wage.” She also commended HUD’s lead hazard reduction efforts, and said the Community Development Block Grant program is the “way to focus on local economic development needs.”
Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) noted his appreciation for the bill overall, but expressed one concern based on claims from the public housing sector in his state. He questioned if “the requirement to set flat rents at the Fair Market Rent (FMR) may make it more difficult for some rural areas to attract and retain tenants.” Senator Murray said she would to continue to work with Senator Pryor on this issue. In the FY14 HUD appropriation bill, Congress directed HUD to require PHAs to set the flat rent option standard at least at 80% of FMR. Each year, public housing residents have the choice of paying rents based on 30% of their income or paying a flat rent. HUD issued a Notice on May 19 to implement the flat rent option’s new standard (see Memo, 5/23).
The Senate THUD bill would provide $19.6 billion in FY15 for tenant-based rental assistance (TBRA), more than the FY14 funding level and the House FY15 proposal, but $483 million less than the President’s request. At this level, the program will not have sufficient resources to recoup any of the 40,000 vouchers lost due to the 2013 across-the-board spending cuts required by the sequester and not restored in the FY14 HUD spending bill.
The bill also indicates tacit approval for HUD’s proposal to shift Section 8 project-based rental assistance (PBRA) contract renewals to a calendar year cycle. This would result in FY15 savings because funding for contracts that run into 2016 would only require funding for the 2015 portion of the contracts. The FY15 PBRA account would need even less funding than provided in FY14 to renew all project-based contracts for 12-month terms, something the FY14 THUD bill failed to do. The downside of this approach is that a $1.2 billion increase would be needed in FY16.
The bill would provide $1.9 billion for the Public Housing Capital Fund and $4.48 billion for the Public Housing Operating Fund. Both amounts are above FY14 levels and the House bill, although the serious underfunding of the capital needs of Public Housing continues.
The bill would expand the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) by allowing 185,000 public housing units to be converted, a 125,000 unit increase from the current cap of 60,000 units. The Administration sought to remove the cap altogether. RAD allows public housing agencies to convert units’ Capital Fund and Operating Fund subsidy streams to either project-based rental assistance or project-based vouchers. The bill would also provide $90 million for Choice Neighborhoods Initiative grants, $75 million more than the House bill and level with FY14 funding.
The appropriations bill would provide $2.15 billion for Homeless Assistance Grants, $261.4 million less than the President’s request, but $40 million more than provided in FY14. An initial analysis from the National Alliance to End Homelessness states that the Senate funding level would be enough to cover renewals, but will probably not be sufficient to expand Emergency Solutions Grants or to provide funding for new projects.
The bill proposes $420 million for the Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly program, with $70 million for service coordinators and continuation of existing congregate service grants for residents of assisted housing. The total amount is $36.5 million more than the FY14 funding level, and equal to the House Appropriations Committee FY15 bill. No funds are provided to supplement the FY14 elderly project rental assistance demonstration.
The bill proposed $135 million for the Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities program. This amount is expected to be sufficient for all project rental assistance contract renewals, but it falls short of providing sufficient funding for another round for the project rental assistance (PRA) demonstration program. The amount is equal to that proposed by the House Appropriations Committee, and $9 million more than provided in FY14. The bill includes language requiring HUD to direct any residual receipts to supplement the recent Section 811 PRA Demonstration program.
The bill would provide $950 million for the HOME program, $50 million less than FY14 but $250 million more than the House Appropriations Committee bill would provide. The Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA) program would receive $330 million, an amount level with FY14 and $2 million less than the President’s request. House appropriators provided $306 million for HOPWA.
Senate appropriators would provide $75 million for the Family Self Sufficiency (FSS) program, an amount level with FY14 funding and the President’s request. Report language would provide the HUD Secretary with flexibility to modify the Family Unification Program (FUP) rules so that FUP voucher holders can also be eligible for services under FSS.
At the full Committee mark-up, a manager's package was approved “en bloc,” that is, a number of amendments were approved by the Committee by a single vote. The package includes a several HUD- related amendments:
- An amendment from Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) to add language to the report requiring HUD to work with the U.S. Access Board to analyze and develop recommendations for increasing accessibility to housing for people with disabilities and report the findings to the Committee.
- An amendment from Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) adding bill language permitting the HUD Secretary to provide an exception in regulation, instead of relying on annual waivers, to allow homes with alternative water systems to obtain FHA insurance, provided those water systems meet state and local codes that ensure health and safety standards.
- An amendment from Senators Mark Pryor (D-AR) and John Boozman (R-AR) to allow HUD to make disaster assistance from existing funds available to smaller, non-entitlement communities.
- Committee Chair Mikulski included an amendment to add report language to encourage public housing agencies participating in the RAD program to give current employees who lose their jobs due to RAD conversion the right of first refusal on employment positions.
Read the FY15 THUD spending bill at: http://bit.ly/1tYiugs
Read the FY15 THUD report at: http://bit.ly/1s0hYTs
Read a summary of the manager's amendment to the FY15 THUD bill at: http://bit.ly/1tYiugs