On Friday, January 17th, President Obama signed into law an appropriations bill that will fund the federal government through September 30, 2014. There was some good news and some less good news for the housing counseling community. Here is a breakdown:
Good News: We have a budget!
The fact that Democrats and Republicans even agreed on a budget, as opposed to funding the federal government through a series of continuing budget resolutions, is very good news. As we all know too well, short-term, stop-gap funding measures make it extremely difficult for agencies that rely on federal funding to plan appropriately. Now, at least, agencies will be able to plan for the remainder of FY 2014.
Another encouraging sign here is that the agreement that was brokered by Rep. Paul Ryan (on behalf of House Republicans) and Sen. Patty Murray (on behalf of Senate Democrats) included an agreement on an overall spending level for FY 2015. As you may recall, the impasse with the FY 2014 budget was that House Republicans and Senate Democrats were more than $100 billion apart on their overall spending number. Now that the two sides are on the same page on that number, it will be much less of a challenge for them to reach an agreement on how to allocate those dollars between programs. In short, there is a much better chance of an on-time budget for FY 2015 than there has been in years.
Good News: $45 Million for HUD Housing Counseling Assistance
While not great news (we had pushed for $55 million), the allocation of $45 million for HUD Housing Counseling Assistance is a slight increase over FY 2013 (when the $45 million allocation was reduced to around $42 million as a result of the across-the-board sequestration cuts).
Less Good News: $67.5 Million for the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling (NFMC) Program
The $67.5 million that was allocated for the NFMC Program is a reduction of about $9.5 million, or 12 percent, from FY 2013 ($80 million pre-sequestration cut, about $77 million post-sequestration cut).
While any cut to a program that is so important to struggling homeowners and the housing counseling agencies who serve them is clearly not good news, there is something of a silver lining here: NFMC has always been intended to be a short-term program and we know it will eventually be wound down. Going forward, we as an industry will need to wrestle with how to replace NFMC with a more sustainable funding source, and we will continue to fight for NFMC funding, but for now, better a cut to NFMC than to HUD Housing Counseling Assistance.
We start again at the beginning! It’s hard to believe, but it’s already time to start working on securing funding for housing counseling in the FY 2015 federal budget. (In fact, we already submitted a letter to President Obama and the Office of Management and Budget asking them to include funding for housing counseling in their FY 2015 budget, which many of you signed.) We’ll certainly be calling on you to help with calls, visits, and emails, so stay tuned!