Legislation to suspend the debt ceiling for the next two years is expected to be passed this week. The legislation allows the nation to continue to borrow, and avoids the catastrophic consequences of a default.

While this legislation has far-reaching implications across federal programs, below is a summary of some of the provisions with the greatest potential impact on child, youth, and family homelessness, and recommendations for action.

1. Spending Caps on Federal Non-Defense Programs

2. Work Requirements for Food Assistance and Emergency Aid for Families

3. Rescissions in Some American Rescue Plan Act Education Funds

“The Fiscal Responsibility Act” essentially freezes funding for non-defense programs for FY2024, while allowing military spending to increase by 3.5%. Non-defense programs include education, early childhood, housing, nutrition, health, and other programs that prevent families and youth from becoming homeless, and meet the urgent needs of those who are homeless. Under the legislation, funding for non-defense programs would be allowed to grow by one percent in 2025. This essentially is a cut in non-defense spending, since one percent is lower than the projected rate of inflation.

This agreement does not mean that all non-defense programs will be treated the same in the annual appropriations process. Rather, it creates a zero-sum game where in order to increase funding in some areas — for example, health research programs — cuts will be required in other areas. As a result, any non-defense federal program that lacks a vocal, organized, active advocacy constituency will face the risk of funding cuts.

For education agencies, FY2024 funding is the funding that is made available for the 2024-2025 school year — the school year during which American Rescue Plan – Homeless Children and Youth (ARP-HCY) funds expire. This makes the next few months critical for advocacy for the Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) program. Without targeted EHCY funding to help identify children and youth experiencing homelessness and remove barriers to school access, these children and youth will not benefit from other local, state, or federal education programs or investments.

The debt ceiling legislation gradually extends existing work requirements for single “able-body” recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by increasing the age range of these requirements from ages 18-49 (under current requirements) to ages 18-54. However, it exempts from work requirements people who are experiencing homelessness, and people aged 24 or younger who were in foster care at age 18 (or a higher age as determined by the state). Note that the SNAP program’s definition of homelessness is broader than HUD’s definition of homelessness and includes “a temporary accommodation for not more than 90 days in the residence of another individual.” 

It is also important to note the SNAP program still prohibits individuals from being full-time students and receiving SNAP benefits. This prohibition makes it more challenging for youth experiencing homelessness and youth with experience in foster care to persist in education beyond high school, which remains their surest path out of homelessness and poverty. SchoolHouse Connection and our partners are advocating to exempt youth experiencing homelessness and youth with experience in foster care from this prohibition in the upcoming farm bill reauthorization.

Finally, the legislation amends requirements for states to show that very low-income parents receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) income assistance are meeting work requirements. Anti-poverty advocates are concerned that these changes will lead to restrictions on assistance, worsening poverty and homelessness.

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