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May Federal Issues Update

Friday, May 31, 2013  
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Federal Policy Report ~ Housing Colorado ~ May 2013 Edition

By Karly Malpiede Andrus

Next Critical Dates: This is the next date or two to bear in mind for issues in Washington, D.C.

  • May 18– Debt Ceiling will be reached again. This will be a critical date to bear in mind although, it does not mean the US government will default at this point. They can keep paying the essential bills for a while by shuffling payments. One example, Treasury recently announced they will delay contributions from federal workers to their retirement plans. We can expect some in the GOP to push this as "leverage” again, although House Speaker Boehner has vowed to not default on US debts.
  • September 30, 2013 – the current Continuing Resolution (CR), extended from fiscal year (FY) 2012 expires
  • October 1, 2013 – start of fiscal year (FY) 2014 budget *Assuming Congress proposes Conference bill that gets President’s signature and Congress gets the appropriations bills through the same process. 
  • November 1, 2013 – The increase in SNAP benefits created by the 2009 Recovery Act will end.

Minimum Wage Update – defining "Working Poor”

Depending on the context and the speaker, definitions of "working poor” can vary significantly, but the following definition of working poor from The Census Bureau sheds some light on the crux of this issue.

"The ‘working poor’ may mean different things to different data users, based on the question they are trying to answer, such as:

  • People who worked, but who, nevertheless, fell under the official definition of poverty. See table POV22 of our Detailed Poverty Tables. Table POV22 focuses on workers versus non-workers, age 16 and over.
  • People who were in poverty and had at least one working family member. See table POV10 of our Detailed Poverty Tables. Table POV10 includes the children and other family members of workers (such as stay-at-home parents, retired family members, and others).
  • People who may not necessarily be "in poverty" according to the official measure of poverty, but who fall below some percentage of the poverty level (for instance, 200 percent of poverty).
  •  Percentages of the poverty level are referred to as "Ratio of income to poverty"" in our Detailed Poverty Tables.
  • "Below 100% of poverty" is the same as "in poverty."
  • "Below 200% of poverty" includes all those described as "in poverty" under the official definition, plus some people who have income above poverty but less than 2 times their poverty threshold.”

The Working Poor Family Project, the National Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Center on Family Homelessness are some incredible sources for these issues. The reality is in Colorado the most commonly reported reasons for homelessness are loss of a job, housing costs and the breakup of a family. Many homeless individuals are working but they simply cannot afford to keep a housing unit.

Among the nation’s working families 10 million are poor or near poor according to the National Center on Family Homelessness. Many families do not earn adequate wages. President Obama identified in his State of the Union address the fact that 24 million US jobs (one fifth of all jobs) do not keep a family of four out of poverty. He has used this fact as his backstop for a recent proposal to raise the minimum wage. From 1997 to 2007 the minimum wage remained $5.15 per hour. It was recently increased to $7.25, which still leaves even a single full time wage earner living below the Federal Poverty Line (FPL). On average, families need income twice as high as the FPL to meet their very basic needs. Currently Colorado’s minimum wage is $7.78, although this does not equate to much more solid financial standing.

Funding for critical wrap-around services in jeopardy with continued cuts

As many in the affordable housing industry know, HUD considers the ideal percentage for sustainable housing to be 30% or less of your income. However the table above illustrates how unattainable that percentage is for low-income individuals. The burdens of housing cost directly impact the ability to pay for other basic necessities.

Food assistance is the most basic wrap around help and the easiest aide to receive from the government, by design. Of concern, currently the House Agriculture Committee is marking up a farm bill that would eliminate Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) assistance to nearly 2 million low-income people and, more generally, cause significant hardships for millions of low-income households. In fact, the bill would cut $4 billion more from SNAP than the Committee included in its version of the bill last year. The majority of the proposed SNAP cuts in the bill would eliminate the categorical eligibility state option, which allows states to provide food assistance to households — primarily low-income working families and seniors — that have gross incomes or assets modestly above federal SNAP limits but disposable incomes in most casesbelowthe poverty line. By ending the option, the bill would cut nearly 2 million low-income people in more than 40 states off SNAP.

Moreover, the low-income families affected by this bill will already see sizeable SNAP cuts beginning November 1, when the increase in SNAP benefits created by the 2009 Recovery Act will end. Coming on top of the November benefit cuts, the SNAP cuts in this farm bill would likely worsen poor families’ risk of food insecurity and their ability to make timely, complete rent payments. Some policymakers, including some House Agriculture Committee members who have pushed for the SNAP cuts in the bill, have justified the cuts by claiming that the program is growing out of control, but it is important to remember that usage of many of these programs, like SNAP, will decline as the economy improves. These programs aim to stabilize working poor and poor families and individuals.

In that same vein, the Administration for Children and Families Office of Community Services recently issued guidance to inform Low-Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP) grantees about the updates to the Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG). Since the Sequester took effect they had to make cuts which can make or break a monthly budget for a working poor family or someone living on fixed income.

These aren’t the only programs that are being cut by Sequester; long term unemployment, affordable housing programs, Meals on Wheels, student aid, Head Start, child care have all taken a hit and given the current budget discussions you can expect more cuts to these sorts of programs, which really are the mainstays of the safety net for the working poor and fixed income community. In other words they help keep people from becoming homeless.

National Low Income Housing participates in Homeless Advocates Group Congressional Briefing

Housing Colorado is a State Coalition Partner of the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) and serves the conduit of federal policy on behalf of our members. NLIHC recently participated in a Congressional briefing hosted by the Homeless Advocates Group (HAG). The HAG has set policy priorities for 2013 that reflected consensus around a set of common issues that their own members and strategic partners such as NLIHC can support and promote. The policy priorities presented at this Congressional briefing were the National Housing Trust Fund, Criminalization of Homelessness, Affordable Care Act Rollout and Implementation, and Preservation of Federal Funds targeted to and for Those Experiencing Homelessness.

The briefing, which was widely attended by dozens of Hill staffers and Members, served as a touchpoint with key decision-makers and communicated the collaboration and common interests of hundreds of local agencies around the country who are represented by NLIHC, HAG and other partner organizations. This level of advocacy may not draw the media attention of fiery debates and filibusters, but it represents the real work that happens behind the scenes by educating and informing our members of Congress and establishing the credibility of housing advocates as partners in finding effective policy solutions.

We encourage to review these resources for further information about their federal policy agendas:

The National Center on Family Homelessness:

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty:

Street Sense:

National Low Income Housing Coalition:

Homelessness Resource Center:

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