The Senate Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies held a hearing on April 19th to discuss the Trump Administration's FY 2019 HUD Budget Proposal. HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson provided testimony on behalf of the Trump Administration.
In their opening statements, both Subcommittee Chair Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ranking Member Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) expressed opposition to key parts of the Administration's FY 2019 Budget Proposal. Both Senators brought up the impact of HOME and CDBG specifically in their respective states, and expressed concern about the Administration's broader cuts to HUD funding. While Senator Collins did acknowledge her support for an increased role for the RAD program in line with what the Administration has proposed, she noted that the proposed elimination of the Public Housing Capital Fund completely negates any potential benefits seen from an increase of RAD's scope.
Secretary Carson's testimony was largely unsurprising in that it fell in line with both his previous statements and stated priorities in the Trump Administration's FY 2019 Budget Proposal. The Secretary spoke of a shift in the way HUD measures program success; looking not at the number of people participating in the program, but at the number of people transitioning out of affordable housing. Secretary Carson pointed to proposed funding levels for the "EnVision Center Initiative", the Family Self-Sufficiency Program, and Jobs Plus Program as examples of HUD's refocusing. Additionally, Secretary Carson outlined the Administration's proposed expansion of the RAD program (requesting $100 million in funds and a lift on the unit cap), and spoke of the importance of allowing local PHAs more flexibility in how they use their operating funds. He indicated that both steps were designed to provide cost-effective rehabilitation for an aging affordable housing stock, in lieu of Federal funds (the Administration did not request capital funding for improvements to public housing for FY 2019). It should also be mentioned that Secretary Carson took time during his testimony to echo the President's frustration with the lack of progress of Senate votes on outstanding nominees, mentioning specifically the need for an FHA Commissioner going forward.
Notably, during the Question and Answer session, Senator Collins confronted Secretary Carson directly about the Administration's continued attempts to eliminate CDBG. It should be noted that Senator Collins did take time to acknowledge that the Administration's FY 2019 Budget Proposal was released before spending caps were officially lifted by Congress, and she expressed hope that the increased spending cap might have persuaded the Administration to reexamine its proposed treatment of CDBG since then. The Secretary made clear that, despite the cap increase, the Administration will continue to advocate for the FY 2019 Budget Proposal as it currently stands. Secretary Carson defended the Administration's proposed elimination of CDBG, and other programs, as a necessary sacrifice in the fight to reduce the Federal deficit. It should be noted that Secretary Carson also took time to acknowledge the good done specifically by the CDBG program, but stated that preventing a debt crisis later down the road justifies the proposed elimination of key HUD programs.
Additionally, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asked the Secretary about the Trump Administration's much-discussed proposed rescission of Omnibus allocations. Secretary Carson repeated his commitment to helping society's most vulnerable, but declined to go into any detail about what funding specifically he intends to recommend that the President reduce. Secretary Carson also gave the Subcommittee an update during the Q&A session on the allocation of CDBG-DR funding to areas affected by last year's string of natural disasters; although HUD has had to deal with a lengthy review process, allocation numbers should be in the Federal Register sometime in the near future. The Secretary noted that HUD is working to shorten the review time from 90 days to 60 days, so that funds can get to where they are needed sooner.
Due to heavy bipartisan opposition, it would be safe to assume that the Trump Administration's FY 2019 HUD Budget Proposal is dead on arrival. Senators on both sides of the aisle took time to note the good work being done by key HUD programs, leaving little doubt that the next spending package will keep HUD funded at acceptable levels.