What the 'cromnibus' would mean for federal community development programs


On Tuesday, the House released its plan to fund the federal government for the next fiscal year. The bill is part omnibus, part continuing resolution—hence the nickname “cromnibus”—and sets discretionary federal spending at close to $1.01 trillion for the rest of fiscal year 2015. The House is expected to take up passage of the bill by tomorrow and the Senate is expected to follow soon after, in hopes of avoiding a potential federal shutdown when the current funding bill expires this week.

The good news is that nearly all federal community development programs would be funded as part of this bill. The bad news is that the majority of those programs would face cuts of some kind.

At the Department of Transportation, the bill includes $500 million for another round of TIGER grants—a $100 million drop from last year. One casualty of that drop? The program’s planning grants, which received $35 million last year. On a more positive note, funding would again be allowed on bicycle and pedestrian projects in addition to highway and bridge projects, passenger and freight rail transportation projects, and port infrastructure investments. The bill would allocate $2.12 billion to the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program—a $177 million increase from last year. Amtrak would receive $1.39 billion, the same as last year. Read more about what this bill would mean for transportation on Transportation for America’s blog.

At the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the bill would continue to fund community development programs. The Community Development Block Grant programs would receive $3 billion—$30 million less than enacted in the last fiscal year budget. The Choice Neighborhoods program would be funded at $80 million—$10 million less than last year. But the bill maintains $5 million for Choice Neighborhoods planning grants, the same as last year. The planning grants are an important part of the overall program in using comprehensive strategies that prioritize investments to transform distressed neighborhoods. Funding for the HOME program, which helps communities fund the creation, rehabilitation, and preservation of affordable housing properties through flexible matching funds and technical assistance, would be allocated $900 million—$100 million less than last year.

And at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Brownfields program—often the first source of funding for communities working on revitalization—would receive $2.61 billion in funding. In the past, House appropriations bills included provisions that would defund or restrict the EPA smart growth programs, which provide competitive technical assistance opportunities to help local towns, cities, and counties reinvigorate their local economies. In a positive sign, this bill does not specifically restrict EPA from carrying out this work.

Pressure is on for the House and Senate to pass this bill by the end of the week, but it currently contains some controversial policy riders—including loosening of some key Dodd Frank regulations, language that paves the way for potential cuts to retiree pension plans, and significant changes to campaign finance laws—that could splinter support for the bill and potentially delay its passage.

Overall, the bill includes several indiscriminate cuts to vital programs. But at least the programs are still there, and for now that’s a success. We look forward to working with members of both the House and the Senate to build support for these programs in coming years.