With bipartisan support, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives approved funding last week to keep the government open through September 30, 2019, the end of federal Fiscal Year 2019. HUD and USDA affordable housing programs received increases over FY 2018 funding levels, rejecting the huge affordable housing cuts proposed by the Trump Administration.
President Trump had to compromise with Congress, who did not provide the border wall funding demanded by him. Trump declared a national emergency on Friday to get those funds.
Lost in the chaos following Trump’s national emergency declaration is the fact that affordable housing programs received increased funding through the rest of the fiscal year. Most HUD and USDA affordable housing programs received increases over FY 2018 levels, The overall HUD FY 2019 budget is $12 billion more than requested by Trump, and $1.5 billion over FY 2018 levels.
Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers and Project-Based Rental Assistance received increases. The Public Housing Operating and Capital Funds also saw increases. These funds allow public housing authorities to maintain, repair and upgrade public housing. They were also targeted for drastic cuts and elimination by the Trump administration. Homeless Assistance Grants were increased, providing more funding for shelters and services. Congress also provided enough funding to renew all expiring contracts for the Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly and 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities programs.
The FY 2019 HUD appropriations also include funding for new initiatives. It provides $25 million for a mobility housing voucher demonstration. This demonstration program will help families with young children move to areas of opportunity. $200 million in grant funding is also provided for Native American communities to build and preserve affordable rental housing. USDA rental housing programs also saw increases for FY 2019. USDA’s rural housing programs all received more funding than the previous year, despite the fact all except for Section 521 Rural Rental Assistance were up for elimination in the Trump administration’s proposal. The National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) has a detailed budget chart here.
The FY 2019 funding measure included $1.375 billion in the Homeland Security budget for enhanced border structures, allowing for only 55 more miles of new fencing and border barriers. This is well short of the $5.7 billion Trump demanded for 200 more miles of border wall.
The White House argues that the move allows him to shift funds from other programs to pay for construction of the border wall. They also say that while the President must report to Congress how the funds have been spent, he does not have to get its approval ahead of time. This has led to a constitutional crisis over the separation of powers in our government. Only Congress has the authority to designate where funds are spent, the “power of the purse” outlined in Article I of the Constitution.
The Trump administration will pull the funds from the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Treasury to build the wall. In addition to the $1.375 billion included in the FY 2019 Homeland Security measure, $2.5 billion will come from Homeland Security counter-narcotics programs. $3.6 billion will come from Defense Department military construction projects. In addition, $600 million will come from a Treasury Department asset forfeiture fund, for a total of $8 billion in wall funding. The administration explored diverting funding for disaster relief and rebuilding, but decided not to do that because of the likely political fallout from taking money being used to rebuild Puerto Rico, Texas and other areas hit by natural disasters in the last couple of years.
The national emergency declaration will be challenged immediately. Critics point out that building a border wall does not measure up to what are normally considered national emergencies. National emergencies are usually declared in response to disasters, acts of terrorism or foreign crises. They usually involve seizing or freezing foreign assets, not redirecting federal funds. The Trump White House cited two cases where emergency declarations shifted federal funds. However, these were declarations made after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Legislation will be introduced in the House blocking President Trump’s move. It may pass both chambers if it gets the votes of the half dozen Republican senators who have spoken out against the declaration. The House of Representatives will also likely sue if its legislation fails. They will argue that the situation on the southern border is not a national emergency and the move tramples on Congress’ power to dictate spending. The State of California has said it will sue, citing the diversion of counter-narcotics funding that would benefit its communities. Civil rights and good governance organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, are also planning lawsuits. Landowners whose property is seized for new sections of the border wall will also likely sue the administration.
Fortunately, affordable housing programs that help low-income renters are safe through the rest of the fiscal year. More importantly, the increase in affordable housing money came from bipartisan legislation. This is in stark contrast to the turmoil caused by President Trump’s emergency declaration trying to bypass the will of Congress and the voters that they represent.
Edited by Nathan Brunet