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Cole eyes axing HUD earmarks for nonprofit organizations

Potential ban would cover earmarks for nonprofits under the Economic Development Initiative grant program

House Appropriations Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., arrives for a Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in the Rayburn building on Wednesday.
House Appropriations Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., arrives for a Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in the Rayburn building on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Republicans are weighing a change to their congressional earmark guidelines that would put another major dent in House lawmakers’ ability to secure funding for social services programs in their districts, sources familiar with the discussions said.

New House Appropriations Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., is considering blocking nonprofits from receiving earmarks under the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Economic Development Initiative grant program.

So-called EDIs, which receive grants out of HUD’s Community Development Fund, accounted for the largest single source of earmarks in fiscal 2024 at nearly $3.3 billion. The HUD projects grew in popularity with House lawmakers last year particularly after then-House Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, banned Labor-HHS-Education earmarks entirely from her chamber’s bill.

No decisions have been made, though Cole has said fiscal 2025 earmark guidance would be unveiled soon.

There were $2.2 billion in House-originated EDI earmarks in the final fiscal 2024 spending package including the Transportation-HUD bill last year, CQ Roll Call found. House members secured EDI funding for nonprofits ranging from shelters for victims of domestic violence, to food banks, to Habitat for Humanity grants to build homes for those in need, among others.

In all, roughly $800 million of the EDI funding went to nonprofits, give or take, representing a hefty chunk that could get the ax this year under Cole’s leadership. The remainder went to cities, counties and other local government agencies as well as colleges and universities.

Nonprofit community projects skewed toward the Democratic side of the aisle in fiscal 2024, but numerous House Republicans were also willing participants.

The largest single House-originated EDI project was a $9 million set-aside for a homeless shelter in Bakersfield, Calif., requested by California Rep. David Valadao, the new top Republican on the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee. He’s got one of the toughest races of any GOP incumbent this year; Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates Valadao’s seat Tilt Republican.

Other sizable House GOP nonprofit HUD earmarks in the fiscal 2024 package include nearly $3.8 million for the Greater Somerset County YMCA in New Jersey, requested by Thomas H. Kean Jr., R-N.J., and almost $2.4 million for Angels of Love, a McLaren, Texas nonprofit focused on aiding women and children who are victims of domestic violence. Monica De La Cruz, R-Texas, requested that project.

Kean’s race is rated Tilt Republican, while De La Cruz’s is Lean Republican.

Senate appropriators, who allow lawmakers in that chamber to earmark the Labor-HHS-Education bill, had fewer earmarked dollars in the HUD account, originating a total of $1.1 billion in EDI earmarks.

‘Political’ projects

Cole has vowed to try to limit the number of “political” projects following some controversies during the last cycle, specifically about earmarks supporting the LGBTQ community in the Transportation-HUD and Labor-HHS-Education bills.

“Some of these are unobjectionable, some of them create political problems for people,” Cole said this week. “That’s just the reality of it. I shouldn’t have to have a political problem in my district because I voted for a bill that had your earmark in it.”

It’s not exactly clear if there would be exemptions to the ban, though sources say Republicans are considering allowing colleges and universities to continue to receive earmarks under the program. Local governments and Native American reservations are not expected to be affected by the potential change.

Last summer, House Republicans took the unusual step of stripping $3.6 million for projects that Democrats submitted that would benefit LGBTQ community from the initial Transportation-HUD bill.

Ultimately one of those earmarks made it back into the final Labor-HHS-Education bill due to Senate backing, but Democrats are on guard for any further tweaks to the process. House Appropriations ranking member Rosa DeLauro said Tuesday that any changes that would block funding for LGBTQ-related projects “can’t fly.”

“How do you continue when you so politicize a process?” DeLauro said. “Should we now start to go through every project on the Republican side? We agree with this, we don’t agree with that, we agree with this? Hell no.”

DeLauro, D-Conn., said she did not expect Cole to pursue changes along these lines.

And even if House Republicans do further limit the projects that Democrats can request, Senate Democrats are unlikely to go along.

The Senate allows earmarking of the Labor-HHS-Education bill, and will continue to allow funding for EDI earmarks for nonprofits in the Transportation-HUD measure for fiscal 2025. Senate appropriators released their updated earmark guidance on Wednesday.

During fiscal 2024, House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Chairman Robert B. Aderholt, R-Ala., voted against the final package due to Senate earmarks for LGBTQ programs and hospitals that perform abortions, along with other earmarks he found objectionable.

“We got rid of all of our poison riders, and Schumer wouldn’t agree to take away their poisonous earmarks,” Aderholt said at the time, referring to Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.

Aderholt doesn’t appear to have secured any EDI earmarks for nonprofits in his district, but plenty of other top GOP appropriators did — including Granger, who got $5 million into the final bill for the YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth, and $3 million for Tarrant Area Food Bank, also in Fort Worth.

Peter Cohn and Herb Jackson contributed to this report.