Concluding the 114th Congress, Moving Right Along to the 115th

Sister Marge Clark
December 20, 2016

The 114th Congress ground to a halt about 1:00 a.m. on Saturday, December 10 after just barely managing to not shut down the government.  A vote passed extending 2016 funding levels into the seventh month of fiscal year 2017. We strongly believe, however, that one temporary Continuing Resolution (CR) after another is no way to responsibly fund our government.

As we prepare to enter 2017, NETWORK continues work to support all at the margins of society due to unemployment or under-employment, immigration status, health issues, and many other concerns. Our 2020 Policy Vision guides our lobbying, outreach, and education to mend the access and wealth and income gaps that are rampant in our nation.  With this Continuing Resolution in place, the only means of increasing funding where absolutely necessary is through an anomaly.

NETWORK’s 2020 Vision did not fare well in the Continuing Resolution.  We focused our efforts on three items desperately needing increased funding and  advocated forincreased funding in each of the three following areas:

1. Census 2020

This is one area that did receive an increase from 2016 funding in the CR. The Census Bureau will be allowed to spend money earlier in the cycle, in an attempt to meet urgent planning needs.  This does not give the Census Bureau additional money, as had been requested. Instead, it leaves them with the same uncertainty about long-term funding for comprehensive planning in many areas, including: the census communications campaign, development of in-language materials, updating address lists, and adequate enumerator training, not to mention making progress on updating all census IT systems and cyber-security protocols. Using this money will also reduce the funds available to conduct the annual American Community Survey which provides important data on economic and healthcare status used by many departments.

2. Refugee Resettlement

Meeting this grave responsibility requires sufficient funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to welcome and support refugees as they strive to adapt and to thrive in the United States. In FY 2016, $1.67 billion in funding was calculated to serve 75,000 (and in the end assisted 85,000). The United States announced that, due to the global refugee crisis, we would accept 110,000. However, increased funding (a minimum of $2.18 million required to support the additional refugees, unaccompanied children and trafficking survivors) was not provided.

One allowance was made, if needed, for the housing and care of unaccompanied children, with the recognition that, due to the variability in the increased number of children coming into the country, it is possible that additional funds may be needed for this population.

3. Housing

Housing in the United States continues to be in short, and expensive, supply for households with low- or no-income. Federal rental assistance is critical for there to be available, affordable housing units. Thousands of public housing units are lost each year, from deterioration and lack of repair. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of families and individuals are homeless, living with others, in shelters, and even living on the streets. For many, they are unable to get rental assistance vouchers to help pay rent. NETWORK advocated for funding to at least be able to support the number of vouchers already in use, as well as funding to repair public housing. These requests, however, were not honored in the CR. The existing number of vouchers supported by the 2016 funds cannot be supported at 2017 costs. Additionally, owners’ costs will increase and those costs will be passed on to renters who are unable to cover that increase. This leaves federal housing assistance to cover the gap. Ultimately, with this CR, more households face homelessness.  A small increase was given for rural housing, in the Agriculture appropriation.

Our elected officials have left Washington for their winter break – to be with family, celebrate the holidays, and perhaps vacation. The same enjoyment is not available for members of our communities who rely on some government assistance to live a life with dignity. This may be a person sleeping on the street, a refugee stuck in a camp somewhere in the world, or those who will not be counted in the 2020 census, leading to inadequate funding for future years of “promoting the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”  We hope all legislators take a moment during their time away from Washington to reflect on the needs of the common good.

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