If you grew up with me in the 1970s, you spent many Saturday mornings singing along to the Schoolhouse Rock videos on TV. These short cartoon videos always had a catchy song that taught kids something educational in an entertaining way. One of my favorites was “I’m just a Bill.” In this video, you met a scroll of paper called Bill who sang a song about how he came to be, first as as an idea written up by a local representative, then debated in committee, then turned into a bill that was voted on by both the House and Senate, and then, if he was lucky, signed into law by the President. The final line of the song stated, “He signed you Bill, now you’re a Law.” It was a great way to teach kids like me the inner workings of government.
What Schoolhouse Rock failed to cover is what happens next. This is the question I get asked most often in our classes these days in conjunction with legislation that impacts our federal housing programs.
The truth is once a law is passed, it doesn’t get implemented right away. Each government agency impacted by the law must engage in a process called formal rulemaking in which the new law is studied and interpreted by that agency, which then proposes additions and/or changes to existing rules that are published in the Federal Register. At that point, the public gets an opportunity to comment. Once the comment period is over, the agency then researches the comments, creates responses to the comments, revises the proposed rule, and publishes what is called the Final Rule in the Federal Register. Final Rules are typically effective 30 days after publication, but it may take several months or even a year before the HUD Office of Housing or Office of Public and Indian Housing publish a notice detailing the new requirements for the management staff to follow. Typically it is several years before we see the new rule published in one of the HUD handbooks or guidebooks. This is one of the reasons I always warn my students that you can’t always trust what the handbook says!
Let’s look at the timeline of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 as an example:
3/7/2013 President Obama signs the Reauthorization Act
8/6/2013 HUD publishes notice in the Federal Register acknowledging the changes in law but also stating that the new law was not “self-executing” and additional guidance and rulemaking was required.
4/1/2015 HUD publishes the Proposed Rule in the Federal Register and the public is given 60 days to comment. Comments were due by 6/1/2015.
11/16/16 HUD publishes the 101-page Final Rule in the Federal Register detailing 68 distinct comments and responses. The Final Rule also details the new regulatory language for each HUD program and provides four model forms.
12/16/16 The Final Rule becomes effective.
5/19/17 HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing publishes PIH Notice 2017-08 explaining the Final Rule and how to implement it in Public and Indian Housing programs.
6/30/17 HUD’s Office of Housing publishes H Notice 2017-05 detailing the Final Rule and how to implement it in the Multifamily Housing programs.
8/1/2017 HUD published in the Federal Register notification that they are seeking comments on the four VAWA forms (which were previously released with the Final Rule and are already in use). Comments are due by 10/2/2017.
Four years after he was signed, our friend “Law” is finally starting to do his job, but it could be years before he is mentioned in the program handbooks.
We are at the beginning of this process with the latest legislation to be passed. The Housing Opportunities Through Modernization Act of 2016 (HOTMA) was signed into law on July 29, 2016 by President Obama. This legislation, once implemented, will make some major changes to our income calculations and the timing of certifications, but just like VAWA 2013, this law must go through the formal process before these changes are enacted. In addition, this legislation requires updates to the software systems to process the new calculations accurately. Currently HUD is projecting that to be in early 2019, but only time will tell.
Look for details of the HOTMA legislation in a future publication.