What smart growth advocates need to know about the omnibus appropriations bill

Congress Last night, Congress released a $1.1 trillion omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2014, which lays out funding for agencies and their programs working to help communities build in smarter, stronger ways.

The bill contains many high points for smart growth advocates, and if you were one of the many people who encouraged Congress to pass a strong appropriations bill in the past few days, thank you. Your voices were heard!

At the Department of Transportation, the bill includes $600 million for another round of grants for the TIGER program—a level not seen since 2010—as well as an increase in the New Starts program that communities need to meet the demand for transit service. Transportation for America has more on the transportation aspects of the bill.

Another high point is funding for community development programs at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The bill would increase funding for HUD’s Community Development Block Grant formula program to just over $3 billion. The Choice Neighborhoods program, which helps communities to address struggling neighborhoods with HUD-assisted housing through a comprehensive approach to neighborhood transformation, would receive $90 million. Funding for the HOME program, which helps more communities develop unique solutions to create affordable housing, would be increased to $1 billion. Unfortunately, the bill did not include funding for another round of regional planning grants.

At the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), funding for the Brownfields program—often the first funding a community receives to spur economic redevelopment—would stay level. The bill did not specifically call out funding for the EPA’s smart growth program.

With this bill’s release, Congress takes a significant bipartisan step to returning to passing annual appropriations bills each year instead of continuing resolutions that freeze funding for programs across all agencies. The most recent funding bill expires tomorrow, and Congress is expected to pass a very short term continuing resolution through Saturday to give both the House and Senate to pass the omnibus by the end of the week.