Trump signs FY21 spending bill and pandemic relief package

Photo by The White House YouTube channel

CORRECTION: Earlier reports said that persons getting unemployment benefits would miss a week of payment because of Trump’s delay to sign these bills. However, the U.S. Department of Labor said in a December 29 statement to CNBC that it “does not anticipate that eligible claimants will miss a week of benefits.”

President Trump signed the coronavirus relief package and Fiscal Year 2021 spending bills into law this weekend. Although his delay in signing the bills will leave some workers short at the end of the year, the legislation will help millions of low-income renters. [Correction: See above.]

Trump’s delay in signing not only held up the coronavirus stimulus package, it also threatened a government shutdown. The coronavirus stimulus package was attached to the regular funding bill for FY 2021 government operations. Trump’s signature on the combined bill Sunday night came only 30 hours before funding for the government was set to run out.

What’s in the spending bill?

Affordable housing programs saw slight increases over last year. This reflects the higher spending limits set in the two-year budget deal Congress reached last year. Both Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rental housing programs received much more than the Trump administration requested.

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HUD received $49.6 billion for FY 2021, more than $12 billion above what Trump and HUD Secretary Carson requested. This is also $561 million above FY 2020 funding levels.

Tenant-Based Rental Assistance (TBRA) received $25.777 billion. This pot of money funds Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV). It also supports rental voucher programs that serve special populations. The FY 2021 funding is almost $4 billion more than what the president wanted.

There is enough funding that all existing rental assistance contracts can be renewed. This means that no current recipients will lose their rental assistance next year because the program lacks funds.

Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers received level funding of $40 million in FY 2021. The Trump administration proposed zero funding for this program every year in office. VASH vouchers and the services that go with them have played a large role in reducing homelessness among veterans over the last several years. Tribal VASH vouchers received $5 million, a huge increase over the $1 million that went to serve Native American veterans last year.

$43 million in additional funding was provided for rental assistance vouchers helping people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. This is a welcome resource with so many tenants getting behind on rent during the pandemic. Tenant Protection Vouchers received $116 million, almost double the amount for last year. These vouchers help public housing residents who are displaced when public housing is rehabilitated and modernized.

Project-Based Rental Assistance (PBRA) also increased in FY 2021, receiving $13.5 billion. These funds provide rental assistance attached to units in rental projects owned by nonprofit and for-profit owners. It is $895 million more than in FY 2020, and is enough to renew all current rental assistance contracts.

Both the Public Housing Operating Fund and Public Housing Capital Fund saw increases for FY 2021. The Operating Fund pays for the ongoing maintenance and management of Public Housing properties.

The Operating Fund received $8.864 billion for FY 2021, which is $315 million more than the year before. The spending bill also has an additional $25 million that will be available based on need.

The Public Housing Capital Fund received $2.942 billion for FY 2021, a $73 million increase. The Public Housing Capital Fund pays for major repairs and upgrades to Public Housing. It includes things like replacing boilers and roofs, health and safety measures, and accessibility improvements. Some funds are set aside for related programs.

Some funds are set aside from the Public Housing Capital Fund for related programs. These include emergency capital needs, lead hazard control, the Healthy Homes Initiative, property assessments, and radon testing.

Funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program increased by $50 million to $3.475 billion for FY 2021. CDBG grants go to state and local governments. It supports affordable housing development and public infrastructure projects. It also supports community programs like Meals on Wheels.

The HOME program is also a block grant program that goes to state and local jurisdictions. It supports developing rental housing affordable to people with the lowest incomes. It can also be used to provide rental assistance. HOME received $1.35 billion in FY 2021, the same as the prior year.

Housing for populations with special needs all saw modest funding increases over FY 2020 levels. The Section 202 Housing for the Elderly programs received $855 million, and the Section 811 Housing for Persons with Disabilities program received $227 million for FY 2021. The Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) program received $430 million.

Homeless assistance programs were funded at $3 billion for FY 2021, up from $2.8 billion the year before. The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) received $3.8 million. The USICH coordinates assistance across all the federal agencies that have programs helping people experiencing homelessness.

Rural rental housing received steady support. The Section 515 Rural Rental Housing program received $40 million for FY 2021. The Farm Labor Housing loan and grant programs received $38 million. These programs pay for housing affordable to migrant and seasonal farmworkers.

The FY 2021 appropriations have a lot for low-income renters. Congress continues to reject President Trump’s efforts to cut affordable housing programs and leave millions of Americans struggling to pay the rent. But by delaying his signature of the coronavirus stimulus package and FY 2021 spending bills, President Trump cost low-income renters dearly.

Two CARES Act unemployment assistance programs expired before Trump finally signed the stimulus and spending legislation. This means that millions of workers receiving help from these programs will not get paid for the last week of the year. Thanks to President Trump, most of these workers will find themselves falling even further behind on their rent. [CORRECTION: See above.]

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