CHN: Another Stopgap Expected as FY20 Spending Bills Creep Forward
With less than a month before the government runs out of funding, the process forward looks rocky. The current stopgap spending bill, known as a Continuing Resolution or CR, provides funding for all government agencies through Nov. 21. When it was passed in late September, just before the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, members of Congress had been hopeful that full FY20 spending bills would be completed by the mid-November date. However, fights over funding for President Trump’s border wall and other issues have held up progress.
The full Senate is expected to vote this week on amendments to its first package of spending bills, a “minibus” consisting of four of the required 12 bills: Agriculture; Transportation – Housing and Urban Development (THUD); Commerce, Justice, Science; and Interior – Environment (for details on the Senate THUD spending bill, see this full analysis and updated budget chart from the National Low Income Housing Coalition). While all four of these bills received bipartisan support at the committee level, they are not without controversy. House and Senate appropriators still haven’t agreed upon the topline spending limits for each of the 12 bills, known as 302(b) allocations. The House 302(b) allocations were passed before a bipartisan budget deal was agreed to by both the House and Senate, which set overall spending levels lower than the spending levels in many of the House bills. Senate Democrats on the Appropriations Committee opposed the allocations passed along party lines by their Republican colleagues, citing inadequate funding for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and too much money for the border wall and anti-immigrant enforcement in the Department of Homeland Security spending bill, which would lead to human needs programs being harmed. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Senate Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill funding would be cut 1.4 percent below its inflation-adjusted 2019 level, a cut of $2.7 billion. The Department of Homeland Security, on the other hand, would receive an inflation-adjusted funding increase of 4.3 percent, or $2.1 billion. Some House leaders reportedly want to see agreement on the 302(b) allocations before the Senate votes on spending bills.
With progress slowed, it is expected that Congress will need to pass a second CR to keep the government open after Nov. 21. While it is possible Congress could pass a short-term CR for a few weeks, it is also possible that they could decide instead to pass a CR extending into February or March to avoid a funding fight and possible government shutdown during an anticipated impeachment trial in the Senate.
In the likely event of another CR, most government agencies and programs will see flat FY19 funding levels during this time; a few so-called ‘anomalies,’ or adjustments to funding levels, will likely be included for select programs. One such anomaly will be needed for the 2020 Census, which needs a significant increase to stay on target for the mandated decennial count. Seven former Census directors recently penned a letter to House and Senate leaders as well as members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees urging that Congress enact the full 2020 Census appropriation as soon as possible. “Because we share your goal of a full, fair, and accurate census, as the Constitution requires, we urge you to allocate a full-year appropriation for the 2020 Census as soon as legislatively possible, to avoid disruptions in the launch and steady implementation of robust census operations,” the letter states. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and 24 other senators previously urged appropriators to include full-year funding for the Census Bureau ($8.175 billion, including $7.5 billion for the 2020 Census) up front as part of the existing CR. The current CR does not increase funding, but allows the Census Bureau to spend “up to the rate for operations necessary to maintain the schedule and deliver the required data.” If the CR is extended, more money for the census must be approved if the 2020 Census is not to be jeopardized. Prolonged flat funding in an extended CR is hard on other programs as well, including expected increased costs for subsidized housing.
The CR in place now also includes a package of health care-related funding extensions for community health centers and for the enhanced Medicaid funds for Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories through November 21. In addition, continued authority for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) must be extended. The expiring extensions will also need to be included if another CR is passed. For more information, see the September 30 Human Needs Report.