Congress brought back a practice called "earmarking," which allows lawmakers to steer money to programs and problems back home without going through the normal appropriations process.
It had caused scandals in the past and was banned for ten years. The process includes having local governments and community groups in-district submit proposals for funding projects to their lawmakers. From there, lawmakers can choose up to ten requests to include in their community funding list to send to the House Appropriations Committee for consideration.
This year, 48 California lawmakers took part in the process, which amounted to around 480 community funding requests. Projects ranged in costs anywhere from a few thousand dollars to millions.
Recurring issues found in the hundreds of earmark requests from California include mobile medical units, health clinics, water infrastructure, regional revitalization and homelessness. One homeless community member in Los Angeles, Bernie Watson, said he hopes these requests can bring change.
"These streets tear you up," Watson said.
Watson has lived on Crenshaw Boulevard for almost 20 years. He said it's hard for him to accomplish much of anything in his situation.
"It's been pretty much downhill ever since, I mean, just living day to day just trying to stay alive," Watson said.
Requests to address poverty appeared most often, ranging from Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, requesting money to expand food banks to Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, seeking funds to renovate affordable housing.
Some Republicans, including Rep. Doug LaMalfa, requested money for their police departments for body cams and upgraded radios. While some Democrats, including Rep. Ted Lieu, requested funds for community and mental health services.
Watson said it's good to know lawmakers are listening.
"I'm hoping everything will work out, and I can get out of these streets cause there's a lot of people homeless, and we need to get in somewhere, and we need to get off these streets because ain't nothing nice out here," Watson said.
But not all lawmakers are taking part in the earmarking process. Four of California's 11 Republicans in Congress, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, did not submit any requests. The other three are Reps. Tom McClintock, R-Roseville; Devin Nunes, R-Clovis; and Darrell Issa, R-San Marcos. McCarthy's decision contrasts with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who submitted more than $14 million in requests.
Many lawmakers refusing to participate in the earmarking process cite the raft of abuses that forced Congress to halt earmarks in 2011. Cases like that of former Rep. Duke Cunningham, R-San Marcos, who pleaded guilty in 2006 to taking over $2.3 million in bribes in return for submitting earmark requests. Cunningham was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Rep. Katie Porter, D-Irvine, points to that case in her choice to be the lone California Democrat not to submit any requests.
"Instead of a neutral government agency, individual lawmakers, facing re-election pressures, divert millions of dollars for specific projects," Porter said. "I cannot in good conscience participate."
Porter referred to her op-ed in the Wall Street journal and said normally Congress determines which projects take priority to allocate funding.
"Projects are given priority based on the overseeing agency's determination of need. The division in responsibility between the legislative and executive branches maintains a degree of neutrality in federal spending. But earmarking deviates from this process," Porter said.
But many members, including Rep. Young Kim, R-Placentia, argue the revived earmarking process now has more guardrails to prevent corruption, including identifying any link an earmark may have to a member of the legislator's family. Above all, they say these appropriations can tackle specific problems back home, benefiting people who need help the most.
"If I can get myself straightened out, I can do so much better for myself. I'm ready for it, whatever it is," Watson said.
Most legislators took advantage of the earmark requests process, and in doing so, some believe it sets a dangerous precedent. But Republicans and Democrats alike in California have said the process has more "transparency and accountability" than ever before.
Final votes on these earmark requests in the House Appropriation Committee's budgets are expected at the end of the summer. Their last legislative markups are expected next week.