United States Capitol Building

Congress Passes Temporary Measure to Keep Government Open

United States Capitol. Photo by pixabay.com

The House and Senate voted to extend government funding through December 20. Called a continuing resolution, the measure avoided a government shutdown. President Trump signed the extension on November 21, the day that government funds were set to run out.

The House passed the measure with a mostly party line vote of 231-192 on November 19. The Senate passed it on November 21 by a vote of 74-20.

Congress had already passed a continuing resolution in September. Lawmakers needed more time to negotiate the FY 2020 appropriations bills before the end of the federal fiscal year on September 30. The House has passed all 12 of their spending bills out of the appropriations committee, and 10 of these have passed votes in the full House. The Senate has only passed a few appropriations bills, but HUD and USDA have been approved. These agencies administer most of the federal programs for low-income renters.

While the Senate and House have budgeted similar amounts for most HUD and USDA affordable housing programs, differences still need to be ironed out. The House passed its funding measures before Congress agreed to a two-year budget deal. This deal sets overall spending caps for the government, with spending limits much higher than the budget proposed by President Trump. House and Senate negotiators will need to compromise on numbers before the bills can be passed into law.

The continuing resolution will also give lawmakers more time to work on some controversial issues. Democrats oppose the President’s request of $9 billion for building a wall on the Mexican border. Disagreements over border wall funding led to a 35-day government shutdown last winter, which was the longest in U.S. history. It also led to President Trump declaring an emergency on the southern border and redirecting funds from the departments of Defense and Homeland Security for border wall construction.

Last winter, disagreements over border wall funding led to President Trump declaring an emergency on the southern border and redirecting funds for border wall construction. Photo by sv.usembassy.gov

HUD and USDA appropriations from both the House and Senate include funding increases for most affordable housing programs over last year. Both bills also reject Trump administration policy proposals that would hurt low-income renters. The administration had proposed raising minimum rents and imposing work requirements on those receiving housing assistance.

The continuing resolution funds government operations at only 95% of FY 2019 levels. Most affordable housing programs should not be affected by the temporary spending measure. Rental assistance checks will still go out, Section 8 contracts will still be renewed and Public Housing operating funds will still be released. 

Even so, a continuing resolution makes things more inefficient. Resources are uncertain, and long-term actions get put on hold; such as approving multi-year contracts or doing bulk purchases to save money.

Some grant programs, however, may delay making awards. This is because programs like Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) and the HOME Investment Partnership program (HOME) are allocated by Congress to the states. These grant programs help build many affordable housing developments. HUD cannot distribute these funds until the final FY 2020 appropriations pass and spell it out. Although this does not affect low-income renters directly, it does slow down affordable housing projects. Funding and construction delays also increase the cost to build the housing.

Finally, the continuing resolution provides a 3.1% pay raise for active duty military personnel. It also extends some expiring health care programs so services will not be interrupted. In addition, it provides full funding for the Census Bureau so that it stays on schedule for conducting the 2020 Census.

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