Mayor Darrell Steinberg was just getting off a plane Wednesday evening, capping an encouraging trip to Washington, D.C., to discuss his innovative plan to use federal dollars to reduce homelessness, when President Donald Trump’s so-called “skinny budget” landed with a big, fat thud.
In a level of cost-cutting not seen since the days of Ronald Reagan, the Trump administration has cruelly proposed to whack federal domestic spending by billions, including more than $6 billion from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Gone would be the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which coordinates the efforts of several federal agencies. Massive cuts also would be made to the Section 8 housing assistance program. Community Development Block Grants, which fund services for homeless people, would be eliminated.
“The president said he would go after wasteful programs, duplicative programs, programs that simply don’t work,” Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, told the Los Angeles Times. “And a lot of those are in HUD.”
Just when Sacramento seemed to be on a solid path to reducing the number of homeless people living under highway bridges and along the American River Parkway, the federal government has come along to inject uncertainty into the situation.
Without a doubt Congress will rewrite the Trump administration’s budget, probably restoring funding to critical federal programs that the president would rather erase. But it’s still a cautionary tale for California. Tying the state’s fate to the whims of the federal government carries a whole new level of risk these days.
“It’s a warning shot,” Steinberg told a member of The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board. “We’re living in unprecedented times.”
Rather than take Trump’s budget outline as a cue to back off, the mayor has decided to forge ahead with his plan to leverage federal dollars to get hundreds of homeless people off the streets and into housing over the next few years. That was the advice he got from HUD staffers in Washington: to “go forward and go forward aggressively.”
For the moment, the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, county Board of Supervisors, City Council, and a host of nonprofits and community groups seem to be with him.
On Tuesday, supervisors will weigh recommendations to redirect federal housing vouchers and other resources to help 1,755 homeless adults and youths, mostly over the next three years. It isn’t quite the plan Steinberg had been pushing for – he wanted hundreds more housing vouchers – but it’s a good compromise and the county should support it.
Still, a lot depends on federal funding. The 100 vouchers that would go to homeless youths are dependent on a U.S. Department of Education grant; Sacramento is a finalist, but Education is another agency that the Trump administration has targeted for evisceration.
In addition to the vouchers from HUD, millions of dollars for addiction treatment and mental health services would come from a federal pilot program called Whole Person Care, which uses Medi-Cal to help “difficult” populations. Steinberg says he has been given no reason to worry about the future of the program, but there’s also no guarantee that Republicans won’t cut it in their sloppy attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
Already, SHRA is facing a federal budget cut of $2.5 million. The agency has enough money to operate through June, SHRA Executive Director La Shelle Dozier told The Bee’s Anita Chabria and Ellen Garrison. But if Congress doesn’t restore funding, SHRA could be forced to stop issuing new housing vouchers in the second half of this year.
The city and the county are right to push ahead with their plan while they still have a window, uncertain as it is to operate in this new federal climate. Homelessness is too critical an issue to be left unaddressed.