Congress Agrees to a Spending Bill that Funds VITA But Not AFI
Over the weekend, Congress agreed to an "Omnibus" spending bill that will fund the government through September 30, 2017. Votes are expected on this bill by the end of the week. The bill finalizes spending levels for FY17 and comes as the FY18 process has already started, with the release of President Trump's skinny budget earlier this spring. Below is an overview of some of the major asset building related items in the budget.
The Omnibus funds the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) grant program at $15 million, level funding from the previous year. This provides certainty to VITA programs that the grant funding will continue for at least the near future.
Prosperity Now continues to advocate for legislation that permanently authorizes the VITA grant program. Fortunately, Senators Brown (D-OH) and Heller (R-NV) have introduced a bipartisan bill that would provide that long-term certainty, the VITA Permanence Act (S. 797). This is a promising development that puts us on a path toward permanently authorizing the program.
The Omnibus funds the Communities Facilities program at $2.6 billion, a $400 million increase from last year. This program provides low-cost loans to build critical community infrastructure like hospitals, schools and public safety facilities. It targets historically underserved rural communities throughout the country.
A portion of this funding supports the Department of Agriculture's relending program, which leverages CDFI partnerships to build and repair critical community facilities. The Uplift America program, which Prosperity Now plays an important role with, assists CDFIs in this endeavor by providing additional technical assistance and resources to deploy this critical financing.
Assets for Independence
Unfortunately, there is some very bad news in the Omnibus for the asset building field: the Assets for Independence (AFI) program is not funded. Despite nearly a year long advocacy campaign from the field, AFI's $18.95 million in funding that fueled Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) across so many programs and states was eliminated as part of a broader $900 million cut to the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Education.
For nearly 20 years, AFI has been a central element of the asset-building landscape. Many of you have had the honor of witnessing firsthand the dedication and determination of the savers AFI has supported – and the incredible transformation of their lives. This is a disheartening loss of opportunity.
This news brings about many critically important concerns for the hundreds of AFI-funded IDA providers about both the short- and long-term implications – about what will happen with current grants, pending applications and savers already in the pipeline. We share your concerns – and while we don't yet have answers to those questions, we're working to learn more and will relay information as soon as it becomes available.
Here's what we do know: This is a setback, but it is not defeat. We are more committed than ever to the goals of prosperity and economic mobility. We will keep fighting for this program and for others that empower families to climb the ladder of opportunity. We're already thinking creatively not only about how to restore AFI funding in the long run, but also how we can build support for other ways of going about this critically important work.
Advocacy is more important now than ever.
AFI did not go down without a fight. Together, we fought long and hard to defend AFI over the past year, and you responded to our calls to action time and time again:
- Last June, when we first heard AFI was defunded in the Senate funding bill, you stepped up and – thanks to you – funding was restored in the House version of the bill.
- In September, an army of asset builders descended on Capitol Hill and asked Congress to fund AFI in more than 500 separate Hill meetings.
- Last fall and again earlier this year, you answered our call to sign on to a letter to key members of Congress in support of AFI.
- This spring, a number of you contacted key members in a final, targeted push for FY17 support.
Prosperity Now will continue to support our network members in every way we can to drive federal advocacy efforts, as they are more important now than ever. To that end, we hope you will join Prosperity Now's Action Center, a new Facebook Group where those committed to building a more prosperous economy can identify opportunities to sound their voices and be heard on a range of financial security policy issues. Also, if you haven't already, please sign up for one or more of our campaigns to stay on top of advocacy opportunities and key action alerts.
Thank you as always for your ongoing energy and efforts. We couldn't do this work without you. In the current policy environment, we will not win every advocacy battle, but together we can help make the dream of an opportunity economy for all a reality eventually.