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Health Care for the Homeless Action Bulletin
December 29, 2015 | Volume 20, No. 6

Easing Some Worries, Congress 

Finally Passes an FY2016 Funding Bill

Omnibus Bill
Congress passed a $1.1 trillion dollar spending bill to fund the federal government through FY2016. At the end of September, Congress was unable to come to an agreement on the budget and passed a continuing resolution to fund the government at FY2015 levels until December 11th, then again until December 16th, and then again until December 22nd. Holding up the process of finalizing a deal were budget spending caps enforced by sequestration. This was resolved on November 2nd with the passing of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015. Many ideological policy riders, including the defunding of Planned Parenthood and restrictions on accepting Syrian refugees, did not make it into the final bill. The House voted on the bill, and the President signed the bill shortly thereafter.
The bill gave the HCH community some big wins. In addition to the mandatory $3.6 billion in ACA funding, Health Centers are funded at FY15 levels, $1.5 billion, with $443 million expected to go towards HCH grantees. The PATH program, which was facing a $10 million cut in the House and a $25 million cut in the Senate, was spared those cuts and funded at the FY15 level of $65 million. The Substance Abuse Block Grant received a boost of more than $40 million over FY15 levels and is now funded at $1.86 billion. The Mental Health Block Grant received a $50 million boost over FY15 levels and is now funded at $511 million. On the Housing and Urban Development side, the HOME program, which was facing drastic cuts in both the House and Senate, was given a $50 million boost from FY15 levels and is now funded at $950 million. The Housing Choice Voucher program was funded at $19.6 billion, providing enough to maintain all current vouchers in use and add an additional $65 million in HUD-VASH vouchers (reserved for veterans). And last but not least, the McKinney Homeless Assistance Grants were given a slight boost from FY15 levels to $2.25 billion. For a more detailed look at funding levels, see the funding status of programs supporting the HCH community
The National Housing Trust Fund survived the chopping block, avoiding an attempt by the House to essentially eradicate the program. The NHTF is money designated solely for the production, preservation, and operation of predominately affordable rental housing for extremely low-income households (less than 30% of area median income). This is great news as we face a growing affordable rental housing crisis, as detailed in a new report America’s Rental Housing: Expanding Options for Diverse and Growing Demand by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. It is expected that the program will begin distributing resources to states in 2016. 
Some other interesting points in the bill include: the expansion of the Moving to Work Demonstration by 100 additional sites, which allows participating state and local housing agencies broad authority over the use of funds and to implement policies such as attaching housing to work requirements; state and local public health departments were given authority to use federal funds to support services related to syringe exchange programs (as long as the funds were not used to purchase the syringes); and an additional $12 million was provided for states to provide grants to equip and train first responders with the use of devices that rapidly reverse the effects of opioids.
Lastly, the bill includes a very important bipartisan agreement to request that the Capitol Police allow sledding on Capitol Hill. In early 2015 it was announced that sledding would be banned due to security reasons. Rest assured that Congress has addressed this critical issue; you can sled on Capitol Hill (that is, if we ever dip below 50 degree temperatures and experience a winter this year).
Tax Bill
Considering that there were many positive gains in the Omnibus Bill, you may be asking yourself, "What’s the catch?" The catch is a $629 billion package of tax cuts that accompanies the bill. Democrats lessened their opposition to the bill in exchange for more beneficial policies in the Omnibus Bill.
On the upside, the deal makes permanent the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the low-income component of the Child Tax Credit (CTC), and the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC). All of these programs were part of the 2009 Recovery Act. According to analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, this change will keep about 16 million people, including 8 million children, out of poverty each year, and it will supplement the wages of working families that contain nearly 50 million people.
On the downside, in addition to the billions in tax breaks being given away to big corporations and special interest groups, the deal makes a major blow to the ACA by delaying the excise tax on high-cost insurance plans and suspending the medical device tax, both for two years. As both are major providers of funds for the ACA, this move has the potential to increase costs of the program by nearly $750 billion over the next ten years. If you want to put a positive spin on this, any calls to end the ACA give us an opportunity to promote a system that does work: Single Payer, Medicare For All.
Mental Health Reform and Criminal Justice
On December 10th, the Senate passed S. 993, the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act of 2015 by a unanimous vote. The bill, introduced by Senator Al Franken (D-MN) and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), improves responses to people with mental illnesses in the criminal justice system. The bill provides grant funds to state and local governments to establish a broad range of activities, including creating or expanding jail diversion programs, providing in-jail treatment and transitional services, and enhanced training for criminal justice and mental health system personnel.
Contact your representative in Congress and tell them to pass the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act of 2015.
Toward Ending the Criminalization of Homelessness
The Department of Justice has made another move calling for an end to the criminalization of homelessness. This month they put out a newsletter directed at law enforcement that called on them to promote alternatives to the criminalization of homelessness.
“Communities across the country are dedicated to ending and preventing homelessness, and law enforcement can play key roles and offer unique perspectives necessary to inform this discussion and end the cycle between homelessness and jail or prison experienced by so many,” stated Matthew Doherty, Executive Director of the USICH. "This newsletter provides us with an important opportunity to advance the dialogue."
Take action! Send the newsletter via Twitter or other methods to your local police department and elected officials and ask them what they are doing to end the criminalization of homelessness. Use this short link ( on Twitter to tweet at your local police department and elected officials, asking how they might be taking the DOJ’s advice into account!
Take Action!
Contact your representative in Congress (Capitol Switchboard: 1-877-210-5351) and tell them to pass the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act of 2015.
Send the DOJ newsletter to your local police department and elected officials. Ask them what they are doing to end the criminalization of homelessness.
Important Changes in Federal Regulations
Several proposed federal regulations are open for comment. For the intrepid among you, take some time to read through these proposed rules and provide comments where you can. 
This publication and all HCH advocacy are funded by dues from Organizational Members of the Council. Consider joining the Council to support this work.
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