Congress Debates Stopgap Funding to Avoid Government Shutdown

Congress remains at an impasse over how to fund the federal government for the new fiscal year that begins on October 1, creating the possibility of a government shutdown. Congress has failed to enact any of the 12 federal spending bills for FY17, including those that fund affordable housing and community development.

Congress now has less than four weeks before the October 1 deadline to pass a stopgap funding measure, known as a Continuing Resolution (CR), to fund the federal government and avert a shutdown. A CR carries forward funding levels from the previous year. The question at hand is how long any CR will last—and what impact it will have on Congress’s ability to enact final FY17 spending bills.

Some members of Congress are pushing for a short-term CR to fund the government through the November elections so that Congress can enact final spending bills by the end of the year, likely in the form of a large package, known as an omnibus, or smaller packages called “minibuses.” The Republican House and Senate leadership, along with Democrats and congressional appropriators, have indicated they would prefer a short-term CR to avoid saddling the next administration with major funding decisions right after a new president takes office. They are also hesitant to fund federal agencies and programs based on last year’s levels for an extended period.

Conservative members of the Republican caucus prefer a longer term CR, urging their leadership to enact one that runs until March to push off any decisions about spending to the next Congress and Administration. They argue that lame-duck negotiations lead to higher spending levels. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has already indicated that Senate Democrats would block a long-term CR from moving forward. Some conservative Members of the House have said they may be willing to go along with a short-term CR, but only if it includes certain controversial policy riders that would likely derail the CR from advancing.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that he began discussions with the White House and Minority Leader Reid about moving a short-term CR as early as this week. Mr. McConnell suggested that the CR would run through December 9 to give lawmakers enough time to negotiate and pass an omnibus spending package.

A CR that extends into next year would be problematic for housing and community development programs. First, a long-term CR at FY16 levels would result in deep cuts to critical housing programs that could cause thousands of families and children to lose access to stable housing, putting them at increased risk of homelessness. For FY17, HUD needs approximately $1 billion more than FY16 spending levels and USDA needs $18 million more to maintain current program levels and renew existing housing assistance contracts. This increase will help to keep all families using tenant and project-based rental assistance in their homes, including veterans who have recently received HUD Veterans Affairs Supporting Housing (VASH) vouchers.

Second, a long-term CR would put other vital affordable housing investments at risk. Both the House and Senate proposed bills for HUD would increase resources for affordable housing programs—$1.2 billion and $1.5 billion, respectively—to help provide affordable, stable housing for more seniors, people with disabilities, families with children, and people experiencing homelessness. Both bills propose needed increases for Housing Choice Vouchers, Project Based Rental Assistance, Section 202 Housing for the Elderly, Homeless Assistance Grants, and Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction. In addition, the House and Senate bills provide level funding or modest increases for the Public Housing Operating Fund, Public Housing Capital Fund, Family Self Sufficiency Program, HOME Investment Partnerships (HOME) program, Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), and Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) program. 

In summary, a long-term CR would intensify the nation’s affordable housing crisis. There is a current shortage of more than 7.2 million units of housing that are affordable and available to the nation’s 10.4 million extremely low income households, those with incomes at or below 30% of area median incomes. Seventy-five percent of these households are severely housing cost-burdened, spending more than half of their incomes on their housing.

To address the affordability crisis and build on recent progress in decreasing homelessness in the U.S., Congress should pass appropriations bills for HUD and USDA programs that will increase the number of families who are able to afford modest homes. A long-term CR would make it more difficult for America’s most vulnerable families to access safe, decent, and affordable housing.

It is important that advocates weigh in now with lawmakers and ask that they oppose a long-term CR and work towards passing full-year FY17 spending bills, free of policy riders, as soon as possible.