As expected, the federal budget will take center stage in Congress over the next weeks and months. In this post, we explain the current status of federal appropriations, what’s at stake for children and youth experiencing homelessness, and what you can do about it.
Finishing Up the FY2017 Budget
This year, the budget process is complicated by the fact that Congress has not yet finished FY2017 appropriations, and therefore must work on both FY2017 and FY2018 budgets at the same time.
Congressional leaders have announced their intent to wrap up the fiscal year 2017 appropriations bills over the next few weeks, in order to avoid any crisis when the current Continuing Resolution runs out on April 28. It is unclear if the remaining appropriations bills will be packed together in a single omnibus bill, or as a series of bills.
Last year, FY2017 appropriations bills either maintained level funding for the McKinney-Vento Act’s Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) program and the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) program, or, in the case of the Senate Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, included a small increase for the EHCY program. SchoolHouse Connection is working with Congressional offices and national partners to support this funding increase.
Dramatic Cuts Proposed in the FY2018 Budget
Looking ahead to FY 2018, the Trump Administration has announced a proposal to make dramatic cuts in domestic funding in order to boost military spending.
The White House has stated that it intends to fund the increase in defense spending by: 1) cutting “lower priority programs;” 2) looking at “outdated and duplicative programs” for targeted cuts; and 3) eliminating programs “that simply don’t work.” The White House is expected to send some numbers to Congress by March 16, and the full FY2018 budget proposal in May.
Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have expressed strong concerns about the President’s proposal, with some Congressional leaders pronouncing it “dead on arrival.” Nonetheless, the President’s budget proposal sets the stage for an extremely challenging budget process, with difficult choices to be made by Congressional appropriations committees.
SchoolHouse Connection already has begun our FY2018 advocacy, by submitting Written Testimony for the Record requesting increased funding for both EHCY and RHYA. However, we need your help urgently if we are to protect funding for key programs. The efforts of SchoolHouse Connection and our partners will be effective only if they are bolstered by people in communities who are willing to make repeated, direct contact with local and state officials.
Action Needed Now: 3 Ways You Can Protect Funding for Homeless Children and Youth
Now more than ever, each concerned person must do what he or she can to ensure that vulnerable children, youth, and families do not lose existing protections and services. Below are three specific opportunities for weighing in.
#1: Urge your Member of Congress to include the EHCY and RHYA programs in their list of FY2018 appropriations priority program requests.
When: Before April 6, 2017
Each year, the House and Senate appropriations committees request that individual members of Congress submit their programmatic priorities for federal funding. The more members of Congress who include a program in their individual requests, the greater the likelihood that the program will receive funding.
This year, the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee has set a deadline of April 6, 2017 for Members to submit requests. The Senate Appropriations Committee has not yet set its deadline.
A sample letter, in Microsoft Word, maybe downloaded here. Please edit this letter to include local or state information where possible. Send one version to your U.S. Representative, and one version to both of your U.S. Senators.
#2: Urge your members of Congress to sign on to “Dear Colleague” Letters that request funding for the EHCY and RHYA programs.
When: As soon as you receive the alert from SchoolHouse Connection
Another critical opportunity for appropriations advocacy will take the form of “Dear Colleague” letters. Dear Colleague letters are sent from members of Congress to other members, asking them to sign-on to requests for funding for certain programs. In the past, Congressional champions for homeless children and youth have sent out Dear Colleague letters requesting support for the EHCY and RHYA programs. We anticipate one such Dear Colleague on the House side this year, and possibly the Senate, in the next few weeks.
The turn-around time for responding to these letters is typically very short – usually just a few days. Please stay tuned for an email alert from SchoolHouse Connection and/or our partners at the National Network for Youth. When you receive it, please respond immediately, and forward it to colleagues and partners, asking them to act, too.
#3: Set up visits with your members of Congress when they are back in the district, either on weekends (and sometimes Fridays/Mondays), or during upcoming Congressional recesses.
When: Ongoing; March 16-17 (Senate); April 10-21; May 29-June 2
A face-to-face meeting and a personal relationship with your member of Congress is the most effective form of advocacy. Setting up a local meeting is easy, and might even be fun. Like the general public, most members of Congress are unlikely to know about the numbers and needs of children and youth experiencing homelessness, or the importance of education and services to their ability to lead healthy lives and achieve economic independence. Even if you aren’t allowed to “lobby,” you can certainly educate, or work with community partners who do not have restrictions.
Many members of Congress return home on weekends, sometimes taking Friday or Monday to meet with constituents and tour local facilities. In addition, members of Congress return home to work during regularly scheduled Congressional recesses. Weekends and recesses are excellent times to set up meetings to discuss the importance of programs for children and youth experiencing homelessness.
You can invite members to visit local programs, or arrange to meet with them and/or their staff in their local district offices. It always helps to bring supportive community partners, especially those who may know the member, and young people and/or parents who have benefited from local programs.
Special Forces: People who live in the districts or states of members of the House or Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittees
The members of Congress with the greatest power over funding for the EHCY and RHYA programs are those who sit on the House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee, or Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee. These committees have specific jurisdiction over education and health and human services programs. If you live in the district or state of a member of Congress who sits on one of these committees, your advocacy is extremely important, because members of Congress pay the most attention to local constituents.
Members of the full House Appropriations Subcommittee and full Senate Appropriations Committee are also influential over all discretionary programs, including the EHCY and RHYA programs. If you live in the district or state of a member of Congress who sits on one of these committees, your advocacy is also critical.
All Hands on Deck
With almost every education and service program at risk of steep cuts or elimination, members of Congress are likely to be inundated with advocacy efforts by many groups on many issues.
Both EHCY and RHYA are unique in the protections they offer; if these programs are cut or eliminated, the futures of some of the most disadvantaged children and youth will be forfeited, leading to more adult homelessness. If we don’t focus on funding for the EHCY and RHYA programs, no one else will.