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Nonprofits take a hit in House earmark rules

House Republicans have expressed concern about funding for LGBTQ organizations

House Appropriations Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., at left, placed a new restriction on earmarks for nonprofits amid GOP concerns about LGBTQ programs. Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
House Appropriations Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., at left, placed a new restriction on earmarks for nonprofits amid GOP concerns about LGBTQ programs. Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

House appropriators have made it more difficult for members to secure fiscal 2025 earmarks for some social services programs in their districts, according to new guidance Appropriations Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., announced Thursday. 

Nonprofits are now blocked from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Economic Development Initiative grant program, which is where lawmakers of both parties turned after earmarks were banned completely from the Labor-HHS-Education bill last year. 

Republicans took issue with earmarks that aided the LGBTQ community that House Democrats had sought in the Transportation-HUD bill last year, and Cole has said he wants to eliminate “political” earmarks. 

“Similar to previous reforms made in this Congress, this change aims to ensure projects are consistent with the community development goals of the federal program,” Cole said Thursday in a letter to lawmakers announcing the new ban.

Earlier this month Cole began sounding out colleagues on the potential tweak that would bar nonprofits from receiving “community project funding” under the HUD grant program, as CQ Roll Call first reported.

Cole also rolled out an aggressive timeline for offices to submit their project requests, with a May 3 deadline. Offices are then required to post their requests online by May 17, in keeping with the program’s transparency rules. 

Under the new guidance for the EDI account, only state, local and tribal governments are eligible, along with public colleges and universities. EDIs, which receive grants out of HUD’s Community Development Fund, were the largest single source of earmarks in final fiscal 2024 appropriations, at nearly $3.3 billion.

Two-thirds of that amount, or $2.2 billion, originated in the House, CQ Roll Call found. Roughly $800 million of those earmarks went to nonprofits including shelters for victims of domestic violence, food banks and Habitat for Humanity grants to build homes for those in need.

The change sets the House up for a collision course with the Senate, which allows earmarks in both the Labor-HHS-Education bill and for nonprofits under the EDI account in the Transportation-HUD bill. 

House Appropriations ranking member Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., called the change a “seismic shift” that would block funding for YMCAs, Boys & Girls Clubs and other critical community programs. She said members of both parties would suffer.

“In order to accommodate the extreme Republican wing, Republicans are trying to root out any help for the LGBTQ+ community,” she said in a statement. “They are willing to hurt their own religious organizations, seniors and veterans.”

DeLauro vowed to undo the shift in the next Congress if Democrats control the House.  

The guidance also keeps in place the Labor-HHS-Education ban that former House Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, put into place last year, along with continuing the bans for the Financial Services and Defense bills. 

Cole had expressed a desire to bring back Labor-HHS-Education earmarks to give the House greater leverage with the Senate in final appropriations negotiations, but he had said it was likely too late in the process to make such a major change. 

“We don’t have a lot of time this year to be messing around with format,” Cole said earlier this month. “We’re going to see what we can do to tweak it.” 

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