Critical Planning Programs Fully Funded by the Omnibus

With the largest investment in American infrastructure since the Great Recession–era stimulus package, Congress has approved an omnibus spending package containing robust funding levels for programs that are critical to planners.

The new funding marks an important step forward for many essential community development programs and resources. An additional $63 billion in funding for domestic programs in FY 2018 was made available by a two-year budget deal approved by Congress in February. This allowed Congress to triple funding for TIGER grants, increase investments in community development programs at HUD by over $800 million, and create $4.4 billion in new funding for transportation trust fund programs.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) had previously referred to the spending agreement as a "down payment" on infrastructure investment, and the final bill provides new funding for an array of programs.

APA issued a statement on the omnibus, lauding the bill for its strong commitment to federal investments in planning and communities. The spending measure represents a thorough rejection of the Trump administration's recent budget proposal with increases provided for many infrastructure and community development programs targeted for elimination. The omnibus also sets the stage for work to maintain, or expand, increases for FY 2019 appropriations.

APA advocates made this possible — many programs spending levels meet or exceed APA's funding request for FY 2018. Without the hard work of advocates who for years demonstrated the devastating impact of the arbitrary spending caps set by the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the painful cuts due to sequestration, these increases may not have happened.

Department of Housing and Urban Development

The omnibus provides desperately-needed relief for programs at HUD that have been chronically underfunded since budget cuts and sequestration earlier this decade.

The Community Development Block Grant program, which was cut by a quarter, finally got a $300 million increase, bringing the total funding level for FY 2018 to $3.3 billion. This equals APA's funding request for the program. HOME got an even larger increase; cut by nearly 50 percent since 2011, Congress restored over $500 million in funding, for a total level of $1.362 billion. This level exceeds APA's funding request of $1.2 billion for FY 2018.

Choice Neighborhoods also got a modest increase, bringing its funding total for FY 2018 to $150 million. The additional funding will allow for a smaller-sized implementation grant or several planning grants.

Other programs at HUD received significant increases; the Public Housing Capital Fund was raised by $800 million, providing housing authorities with funding to update their aging public housing portfolio. In 2010, a HUD study estimated a $26 billion backlog in deferred maintenance and Congressman David Price (D-N.C.) commented in a hearing earlier this week that the number had likely grown to $50 billion. Though the $2.75 billion will only skim the surface of the need for public housing rehabilitation, it is a step in the right direction.

The FY 2018 HUD budget is a dramatic rejection by Congress of the both the President's FY 2018 and FY 2019 budget, which was released last month. Not only did Congress maintain the programs that the Trump administration pegged for elimination, but they increased funding by a combined total of over $800 million for community development programs and over $900 million for public housing — the first time the programs have seen such a dramatic increase since ARRA at the beginning of President Obama's first term in 2009.

The omnibus also included important policy provisions related to the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit. The bill incorporated provisions for a 12.5 percent increase in the allocation cap, the first increase in a decade, and incoming averaging for projects. Housing advocates estimate the changes would likely support at least 30,000 new affordable units per year. These reforms may help mitigate some of the negative impacts on LITHC from last year's tax reform legislation.

Transportation and Other Infrastructure Accounts

Funding levels in the omnibus provide across the board increases for a full modal range of transportation infrastructure investments. In total, transportation funding rises to the highest level in a decade. As noted above, the discretionary TIGER grants would see funding tripled to $1.5 billion. There will be $4.4 billion extra from the general fund for key transportation programs with $2.5 billion more for highways, an extra $1 billion for airports, and $834 million more for transit.

After being heavily targeted in the Trump budget, transit programs fare well with $834 million in additional funding and significant new funding for New Starts transit capital grants. The New Starts funding is double that requested by the White House and provides $1.5 billion for new projects, $716 million for core capacity projects, and $401 million for Small Starts. Rail also does well with $863 million for grant programs and $1.3 billion for Amtrak.

Several other notable infrastructure and community development programs saw increased funding. FEMA will get nearly double the funding for pre-disaster mitigation grants ($249 million) and increases for flood mapping. The Economic Development Administration, targeted for elimination in the budget, will get a $26 million boost to $302 million. Increases for water infrastructure will bring key state revolving loan funds to $2.9 billion and $63 million for WIFIA financing. Parks too see a solid boost with solid increases for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and National Park Service. APA had previously supported funding for all those programs.

Congress also used the omnibus legislation to once again extend the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The program's authorization was extended through the end of July. Many on Capitol Hill hope that NFIP will get a full reauthorization enacted ahead of the new deadline. NFIP reauthorization remains one of the few "must do" items on the Capitol Hill agenda. Other such items of note for planning includes FAA reauthorization and the Farm Bill.

Funding Planning Programs through FY19

Outside of this handful of critical items and with midterm elections already looming large on the congressional calendar, spending legislation for FY 2018 and the coming work on FY 2019 may be among the final legislative opportunities prior to November.

The increases in the enacted omnibus should be quickly felt in communities as agencies push to get new funding released during what remains of this fiscal year. Additionally, the higher funding baselines and the second year of the budget agreement should provide a strong foundation for advocacy for FY 2019 funding.

Top image: Getty Images photo.

About the Authors
Tess Hembree is policy manager at Advocacy Associates. Jason Jordan is APA's director of policy.

April 2, 2018

By Jason Jordan, Tess Hembree