National Coalition for the Homeless
Public Policy Priorities – 2013
Each year the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) sets public policy priorities for its ongoing work with lawmakers, advocates and provides alike. The priorities are set using feedback from people experiencing homelessness, national and local advocacy organizations, domestic federal agencies and lawmakers. In 2013, NCH recognizes the policy challenges associates with the tight federal budget, a weakened economy and Congress’ reduced interest in bipartisan advancements in social policies. With this in mind, NCH has chosen three public policy initiatives for annual focus:
Capitalize the National Housing Trust Fund
The National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF) was established as a provision of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. The passage of NHTF legislation was a major victory for the lowest income people in our country with the most serious housing needs.
The NHTF will, once capitalized, provide communities with funds to build, preserve, and rehabilitate rental homes that are affordable for extremely and very low income households. Unfortunately, no money has yet been provided for the NHTF. We view the current moment as a significant opportunity to secure these badly needed resources.
For several years, the Administration has requested $1 billion in mandatory funding for the NHTF. Securing these funds should be a FY 2014 priority. In addition, there appears to be significant interest in making reforms to the home mortgage interest deduction (MID), a housing subsidy that costs the federal government somewhere between 2-3 times more, each year, than the HUD budget. If reforms are made to the MID, we believe strongly that any money saved must be used to provide affordable housing, through NHTF. Using MID reform savings in this way could generate as much as $20 billion per year, money that would allow us to end homelessness in this country.
Implement the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid Expansion
Poor health causes and prolongs homelessness. The Affordable Care Act, particularly the expansion of Medicaid, will help prevent and end homelessness by improving health and protecting against personal bankruptcy. Currently, many people experiencing homelessness are ineligible for Medicaid even though they are extremely low income and in poor health. In states that choose to expand, this population will become eligible for Medicaid and have access to comprehensive health insurance that can stabilize chronic and acute health care conditions, connecting many to primary and specialty care and behavioral health that has been out of reach without insurance. Required Medicaid enrollment changes—such as prohibiting paper documentation, automatic verification of income and identity, automatic renewals, a single streamlined application, and moving to a modified adjusted gross income—will help connect people to care more efficiently. These are significant improvements that will not only help individuals realize better health and increased stability, but also yield cost savings to state and local governments as the negative direct and indirect impacts of poor health are reduced.
To ensure that the law is most effective for homeless persons, the Administration should continue to encourage states to approve the Medicaid expansion; require insurers to contract with all essential community providers who want to participate (not just 20%); rigorously enforce protections against discrimination, limited access and low quality care; expand benefit requirements (such as adding coverage for adult dental and vision); prohibit states from terminating Medicaid upon incarceration or other institutionalization; and expressly provide incentives for states to combine housing programs with health care services for long-term homeless and chronically ill populations. The Administration should also work to ensure that those left out of the ACA—namely people without documentation, people unable to afford insurance, and people who are eligible but un-enrolled in care—are able to access a strong health care safety net.
Oppose the Criminalization of Homelessness
Communities across the country are continuing to pass unproductive and often unconstitutional ordinances that criminalize homelessness by punishing people who are forced to live in public spaces for activities like sleeping or sitting on sidewalks or in parks, or for activities necessary to maintain a basic level of hygiene where no bathroom facilities are available. These laws and policies are inhumane, costly, and unproductive – when homeless people are arrested there are substantial police, court, and jail costs, and individuals are typically released right back to the streets they came from.
The Administration should do more to address these concerns. The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness has engaged locally in opposition to several ordinances of strong concern to our group. This effort should be expanded. We also urge HUD to provide extra points on the annual homeless assistance funding application to communities that avoid criminalization by instead adopting positive alternatives like housing and supportive services. The federal government should also review its grant programs, particular community policing grants at the Department of Justice (DOJ), to ensure that federal funds support positive efforts to end homelessness, and are not being used to support criminalization. And finally, civil rights organizations often engage in litigation to oppose criminalization ordinances. The DOJ Civil Rights Division should actively support these challenges.