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Ranking Member Price Delivers Opening Remarks at THUD Subcommittee Markup of FY19 Appropriations Bill

May 16, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C.  (May 16, 2018) – Today, May 16, 2018, Congressman David Price (D-NC), Ranking Member of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following opening remarks at the markup of the FY2019 Appropriations Bill.

            Remarks as prepared.

Mr. Chairman, I want to begin by thanking you for your efforts to accommodate the requests of Democratic members.  You continue to be accessible and receptive to many of our priorities and it continues to be a pleasure to work with you. 

As you have already stated, this year’s allocation is $71.8 billion for critical transportation, housing, and community development programs at DOT, HUD, and related agencies.  This is $1.5 billion over last year’s enacted level. 

This healthy allocation is largely the result of successful bipartisan budget negotiations that concluded earlier this year.  It allows us to build on the success of last year’s omnibus agreement, which provided a significant down payment to address our nation’s pressing infrastructure and housing needs.  However, I think all of us on this subcommittee know that demonstrated need continues to outpace the funding we are providing. 

The FY 2019 subcommittee mark before us today contains robust funding for transit and rail programs that the President’s budget sought to eliminate.  The FTA Capital Investment Grants program receives $2.6 billion—enough to fully fund all New Starts, Small Starts, and Core Capacity projects in the pipeline—and bill language is included to ensure the Department continues to administer the program according to congressional intent. Lest anyone forget, the Congress determines how money is appropriated – not executive branch appointees – and we will continue to exercise our constitutional responsibility and ensure our decisions are implemented faithfully.

Back to the mark itself, Amtrak receives nearly $2 billion in funding, equal to last year’s enacted level, which represented a record investment in our nation’s passenger rail network.  Several discretionary rail programs, including CRISI grants and the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair grants, receive healthy funding.

The popular TIGER grant program will receive $750 million.  While this represents a 50 percent cut compared to last year’s enacted level of $1.5 billion, I’m pleased that the subcommittee mark includes language to provide an appropriate balance between rural and urban projects. 

This language rejects, in a bipartisan manner, the Department’s recent misguided decision to make TIGER a predominantly rural grant program.

Core safety programs at DOT’s modal agencies will receive adequate funding, and the FAA receives targeted increases above the budget request to accelerate critical NextGen air traffic control modernization projects.

Notably, the bill provides considerable resources to core transportation formula programs above and beyond the funding levels authorized in the FAST Act.  This includes:

  • More than $4 billion for highways and bridges,
  • $500 million for competitive airport infrastructure grants, and
  • $800 million for transit programs, including competitive Bus and Bus Facility grants and State of Good Repair funding.

On the housing side of the ledger, funding for Section 8 vouchers and project-based rental assistance appears adequate to ensure nobody loses housing assistance – another area where we are rightfully rejecting the President’s fundamentally flawed budget request.

I hope and expect that the Chairman and I can continue to work together to protect this vital assistance and revisit the housing numbers as updated renewal estimates are received by the subcommittee.

The subcommittee mark also includes additional funding for special voucher categories, including:

  • $40 million for additional HUD-VASH vouchers for veterans,
  • $390 million for Section 811 “mainstream” vouchers for the disabled, and
  • $50 million to fund a new mobility demonstration project to assist low-income families find housing in high-opportunity neighborhoods. 

Section 202 and 811 housing for elderly and disabled receive enough funding to renew existing renewals and contracts, but not enough to construct new units like we provided in the 2018 omnibus.  I hope we can improve these numbers because the need is acute among both our elderly and disabled population, and these programs have proved their worth in addressing this need.  Their revival cannot be a mere one-year blip in funding.

The bill locks in recent funding increases for critical discretionary housing grant programs.  Choice Neighborhoods, which allows grantees to transform distressed communities into thriving mixed-income communities, once again would receive $150 million.

The popular Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, which offers flexible funding to towns and cities across the country for housing and public infrastructure improvements, receives flat funding at $3.3 billion. 

Meanwhile, the HOME Investment Partnerships program, which is so often utilized as key “gap funding” in new affordable housing developments, receives $1.2 billion, a slight cut from last year’s enacted level.  We need to push these numbers higher, particularly in the context of large funding increases in the transportation title of this bill.

In public housing, the story is similar.  Recent gains made in the FY18 omnibus are largely maintained.  The public housing capital fund will receive $2.75 billion, equal to last year’s level.  This is well below demonstrated need, but it nonetheless represents a major improvement over the funding levels from prior years. 

I’m pleased the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) program will get another modest funding increase, to ensure all grantees are held harmless during ongoing formula modernization, and that Homeless Assistance Grants (HAG) receives a modest $33 million increase over last year’s level. 

As we all know, we are in the midst of a national housing crisis—only one in four people eligible for federal rental assistance can receive it—and rents continue to rise dramatically in many of our districts across the country.  Our infrastructure continues to crumble, resulting in decaying highways and bridges and congested roads and airports. 

As the process moves forward, I hope to work with the Chairman to provide additional resources to improve our transportation networks, combat homelessness, and make robust investments in community development programs.

Before I close, I must register several concerns that I believe will determine the extent to which we have a productive, bipartisan appropriations process this year. 

First, I am strongly opposed to several controversial policy riders that were attached to this bill that unnecessarily attack high speed rail, roll back transportation safety for the traveling public, and harm labor rights.  While I do not intend to offer amendments to the subcommittee mark, members will have the opportunity to delete these riders in full committee.  They must be addressed if the bill is to garner bipartisan support.

Second, the majority’s decision to once again avoid transparent 302(b) allocations does not inspire confidence about the process moving forward.  In fact, it could wreck this and other bills.  It is impossible for Committee members to make informed decisions about spending priorities when we are operating in the dark and left to guess about future allocations as each bill is marked up in Committee.  This subcommittee does not operate in a bubble, it exists alongside eleven other bills, and we must consider this allocation in the context of potential cuts elsewhere.

Finally, the Trump-Mulvaney rescission package—and the possibility of additional rescission proposals backed solely by the Republican majority—will greatly complicate the appropriations process, which requires good faith and trust to be successful. 

Rescissions that target only non-defense spending or Democratic priorities remain a non-starter, and clawing back or cancelling funding from recently enacted appropriations bills undermines our ability to reach future bipartisan agreements.

If the majority expects our cooperation in the appropriations process, it must reject rescissions packages concocted without collaboration behind closed doors, remove objectionable special-interest riders, and come clean about the 302(b) allocations for our remaining bills.

Mr. Chairman, I remain hopeful that we will ultimately put these distractions aside, clean up the riders in this bill, and proceed to get our work done for the American people.  I look forward to continuing to work with you in the weeks and months ahead. 

Thank you.