In our last policy update, we provided an overview of likely Congressional action related to homeless children and youth in the 115th Congress. Now that President Trump has been sworn in, the pace of Congressional activity has picked up, and with it, the need for sustained advocacy.

In the coming weeks, we’ll provide timely policy updates and legislative alerts. In this post, we look at: 1) administrative action on ESSA; 2) what’s at stake for homeless children and youth in the FY2017 and FY2018 budgets; and 3) what you can do about it.

ESSA Regulations on Hold

On January 20th, the Trump Administration placed a 60-day hold on all regulations that have not yet gone into effect. This includes the U.S. Department of Education’s regulations on state plans and accountability measures under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The ESSA accountability and state plan regulations were previously scheduled to take effect on January 30, 2017. However, the 60-day “pause” will give the new Administration time to review the regulations and make decisions about whether to try to rescind or revise them (which would require another public notice and comment period), or allow Congress to use its ability under the Congressional Review Act to repeal them entirely.

Within the ESSA regulations, those of most direct relevance to children and youth experiencing homelessness and those in foster care are:

  • requirements for local procedures for transportation for children and youth in foster care;
  • calculation of disaggregated graduation rates; and
  • parameters for the inclusion of the McKinney-Vento Act’s Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program in the Consolidated Plan.

More information on these regulations may be found here.

While no official statements have been made about whether the hold on the ESSA regulations will affect the deadlines for submissions of state plans, President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education stated in her confirmation hearing that she does not intend to delay submission and review of state plans.

Congress Debates Budget: What’s at Stake for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Last December, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution, a stop-gap measure that continues federal funding at current levels through April 28, 2017. This gives Congressional leaders time to work with the Trump Administration on a longer-term budget measure. President Trump is expected to submit his FY2017 budget proposal to Congress within the next 45 days. At the same time, the FY2018 and future budgets are under consideration. The blueprint being used by President Trump’s team would reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years, setting the stage for intense and prolonged legislative battles over the future of funding for both discretionary programs, including most education, health, housing and social services, and entitlement programs, including most Veteran’s Administration programs, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.

Funding for the McKinney-Vento Act’s Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) program and the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) program hangs in the balance of this larger budget discussion. The authorization level for the EHCY program was raised to $85 million by the Every Student Succeeds Act, in recognition of the growth in student homelessness and the importance of the program. Funding for the RHYA program has been level at $119 million, despite a sharp increase in the number of unaccompanied homeless youth identified by public schools, and the lack of emergency and transitional shelter beds to keep them out of harm’s way. Whether the EHCY and RHYA programs receive any increase, or are at risk of cuts, will be determined by Congressional action in the coming weeks and months.

Beyond these two critical and focused programs, Congress will contemplate cuts to other education, housing, health, and income programs that prevent families and youth from becoming homeless, or help them survive and overcome homelessness.

What You Can Do

While the federal budget and appropriations processes are complex and often jargon-laded, you don’t need to be an expert on the budget to take action to protect critical services for children and youth experiencing homelessness. Now more than ever, each concerned person must do what he or she can to ensure that vulnerable children and youth do not lose existing protections. Below are three tips for effective advocacy on behalf of homeless children and youth in the coming weeks and months.

1) Build relationships with legislators now.

While phone and Twitter campaigns can help, nothing is as effective as a face-to-face meeting or a personal relationship with your Member of Congress. Setting up a local meeting is easy and might even be fun. The beginning of a new legislative session (i.e. now) is the best time to schedule local, face-to-face meetings with Members of Congress and their staff members. Like the general public, most Members of Congress do not know about the numbers and needs of children and youth experiencing homelessness, or the importance of early care, education, and services to their ability to lead healthy lives and achieve economic independence. Even if you aren’t allowed to “lobby,” you can certainly educate, or work with community partners who do not have restrictions. Building and sustaining relationships through program visits, media stories, etc. can make the difference when key votes arise. Contact information for U.S. Representatives is here; and for US Senators, here.

A sobering reminder of the risk that lies ahead is the repeal of the McKinney-Vento Act’s Adult Education for the Homeless program by the 104th Congress in 1995. Riding a similar tide of reduction in spending, the 104th Congress proposed to eliminate both the EHCY and Adult Education programs. Strong advocacy for the EHCY program saved it from elimination; but the Adult Education program was defunded, and subsequently repealed. The recent popular, bi-partisan reauthorization of the EHCY program by ESSA (and the increase in the authorized funding level) provide some protection against EHCY’s elimination. However, communities must educate their Members of Congress about child and youth homelessness and the importance of both the EHCY and RHYA program-  particularly since RHYA has not been reauthorized recently.

2) Actively support broader efforts, but keep a sharp focus on programs for homeless children and youth.

Many federal programs benefit children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness – from health care to housing, education to employment. The “big picture” budget issues, such as entitlement reforms and caps on spending, ultimately impact on children, youth, and families without homes. We urge you to follow and support the efforts of broader coalitions like NDD United, the Coalition on Human Needs, and the Children’s Budget Coalition, organized by First Focus.

At the same time, if we don’t focus on funding for the EHCY and RHYA programs, no one else will. With almost every education and service program at risk of steep cuts or elimination, Members of Congress are likely to be inundated with advocacy efforts by many groups on many issues. Both EHCY and RHYA are unique in the protections they offer; if these programs are cut or eliminated, the futures of some of the most disadvantaged children and youth will be forfeited, leading to more adult homelessness. We must continuously elevate the unique value and importance of these two specific programs within larger budget discussions.

3) Make advocacy a part of your routine (don’t rely on the professionals).

At the end of the day, national organizations – including SchoolHouse Connection – are limited in the direct effect we can have on individual Members of Congress. We are not constituents, and we do not have the power to vote for or against a legislator, or otherwise hold them accountable for their actions. Our efforts will not be effective unless they are bolstered by people in communities who are willing to make repeated, direct contact with local and state officials.

We ask you to answer our calls for action by reaching out directly to your Members of Congress at key moments. We know you are busy, and we will not ask you to act unless the moment is right and action is necessary. We also are very willing to assist with local and state advocacy strategies, including connecting state and local offices to DC offices.

While it is true that children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness face myriad and perhaps unprecedented challenges, the community of educators and service providers who care is large, and growing. We have faith in the passion, ingenuity, and intelligence of this community, and we pledge to do our best to partner with you in the days ahead.

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