CHN: FY20 Spending Bills Passed with Mixed Outcomes for Human Needs Programs

After months of negotiations, uncertainties, and multiple stopgap spending measures, Congress finally passed a nearly $1.4 trillion FY20 spending package to fund the federal government for the full fiscal year. President Trump is expected to sign the bill into law on Friday, Dec. 20. While topline spending caps for discretionary (annually appropriated) defense and nondefense programs were agreed upon in a bipartisan budget deal passed by Congress earlier this year, the two “minibus” spending bills, which combined the 12 required appropriations bills covering all government agencies for the rest of the fiscal year in two packages, includes item-by-item spending details.

The spending package includes some wins for advocates and for the communities they fight for, while other parts of the package left advocates disappointed. As CHN noted in its statement released on Dec. 18, “The appropriations bills will provide important help to many Americans…. [But] there are also some bitter disappointments.” A summary of some of the highs and lows within the legislation follows by department.

For more information, see the following summaries of the spending package from the Senate Appropriations Committee Majority, Senate Appropriations Committee Minority, House Appropriations Committee Majority, and House Appropriations Committee Minority.


Department of Agriculture:

The package included many important increases for nutrition programs for low-income children and adults. The bill includes $35 million for the Summer EBT program to benefit children when school is not in session. It also includes $6 billion for the Special Supplemental Nutrition for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, which according to the National WIC Association is sufficient to meet expected need based on current estimates, as well as full funding of $90 million (an increase of $30 million over FY19) for WIC’s Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Program. This is the first time since the program was expanded in 2010 that Congress has provided full funding for the program. The Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which distributes food boxes to low-income home-bound seniors, received $245 million, an increase of $22 million over FY19 levels; this program was proposed for elimination in President Trump’s budget.

Mandatory spending for SNAP/food stamps is included at a level of $67.9 billion to cover all eligible participants. Due to declining enrollment, this is $5.6 billion below FY19 levels. Language was included that would take steps in the right direction to help ensure SNAP payments are still available in the event of a future federal government shutdown. Child Nutrition Programs received $23.6 billion in mandatory funding to fully fund the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Summer Food Service Program, and Child and Adult Care Food Program, an increase of $474 million over FY19 levels.


Department of Education:

Overall, the Department of Education is funded at $72.8 billion, up $1.3 billion from FY19 levels. Some programs within the Education Department that received increases include K-12 Special Education (IDEA) programs, which was increased by $410 million to $13.6 billion. 21st Century Community Learning Centers (afterschool programs) received a $28 million bump to $1.2 billion, despite the fact that President Trump’s budget would have eliminated the program. Title I grants for low-income K-12 schools rose $450 million to $16.3 billion.

The GEAR UP program, which supports low-income students from high school into their first year of college (also slated for elimination in President Trump’s budget), received a $5 million bump to $365 million. The federal TRIO program, which supports low-income, disabled, and first-generation college students, was funded at $30 million over FY19 levels to $1.1 billion. Maximum Pell Grant awards will be increased by $150 to $6,345 per recipient. For more information, see this statement from the National Education Association.


Department of Health and Human Services:

There were several important increases in the HHS department budget, with base funding of $94.9 billion, an increase of $4.4 billion above FY19. Funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) was increased by $550 million to $5.8 billion. This follows historic increases in FY18. Head Start funding was increased by $550 million to $10.6 billion. Senior Nutrition programs received an increase of $30 million to $937 million. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) received an increase of $50 million over FY19 to $3.7 billion; President Trump’s budget had slated LIHEAP for elimination again this year. Despite the increase, funding for LIHEAP is still below FY10 levels. The Community Services Block Grant, which provides operating funds for community action programs nationwide, received a small $15 million increase to $740 million; this was another program proposed for termination in the Trump budget. Similarly, the Trump budget would have ended the Social Services Block Grant, which was level-funded at $1.7 billion in the spending package.

Many child welfare programs funded through annual appropriations were also level-funded or received small increases. Child protective services state grants provided under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) grew from $85.3 million to $90.1 million. Adoption Incentive Grants were level funded (at $75 million), as was the Promoting Safe and Stable Families program, which received $345 million.


Department of Homeland Security:

The Trump Administration had requested $8.6 billion for construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, while advocates opposed any funding for the wall; the appropriations package provides $1.375 billion, the same level as FY19, but provides greater flexibility on where a wall could be built. The package also allows President Trump to retain his authority to transfer funds from the Department of Defense to the wall, which advocates opposed, but it denied a Trump Administration request to backfill $3.6 billion that is being diverted from military construction projects to finance the wall. A federal district court in Texas recently issued a permanent injunction against shifting funds from military construction projects to the wall.

The spending deal also provides $8.1 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, $494 million above FY19, and it allows the White House to later transfer more money to ICE for additional detention beds. The National Immigration Law Center opposed the provisions in the package, saying in a statement that the package “will ultimately allow this administration to continue to inflict widespread harm on immigrant communities and flagrantly abuse its power right under Congress’s nose.”


Department of Housing and Urban Development:

The spending package provides HUD programs with $4.9 billion in funding over FY19 and $12.4 billion above the President’s request for a total of $49.1 billion. The spending bill renews all Housing Choice Vouchers and provides $793 million to the Section 202 Housing for the Elderly program, a significant increase of $115 million above FY19 levels. The bill provides $12.6 billion to renew project-based rental assistance contracts for 2020, an increase of $823 million more than in FY19. Advocates estimate this will be sufficient to renew all contracts. The bill includes $229 million for the Section 811 Housing for People with Disabilities program, a slight increase from FY19.

The bill would increase funding for the HOME program by $100 million to $1.35 billion, and the Community Development Block Grant program grows to $3.43 billion. President Trump had proposed to eliminate both programs. The Choice Neighborhoods Initiative saw a funding increase when compared to last year’s allocation, from $150 million to $175 million. The bill provides $290 million to the Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes’ grants, a small $11 million increase over FY19. Public Housing Operating Funds were cut modestly compared to FY19 levels.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, House and Senate leaders also agreed to include stronger legislative language to force HUD to finally release critical disaster mitigation funds for Puerto Rico. Congress approved more than $16 billion in mitigation funding for Puerto Rico nearly two years ago, but HUD has delayed releasing the aid. HUD has ignored a congressionally mandated deadline to release the funds by September of this year. Advocates were disappointed that the bill does not include language to prevent HUD from moving forward with harmful policy proposals to force mixed-status immigrant families to separate or face eviction from HUD-assisted housing. Nor does it include language to prevent shelters from discriminating against transgender and LBGT people experiencing homelessness. For more information, see this piece from the National Low Income Housing Coalition as well as their updated budget chart.


Department of Labor:

Several important programs within the Department of Labor received modest increases as well, as the agency’s budget was increased by $291 million over FY19 to $12.4 billion. Job Corps vocational training programs received $25 million more than FY19, to $1.7 billion. Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act grants, which help people with barriers to work gain new skills and find employment, is funded at $2.8 billion, $30 million more than FY19. Registered apprenticeship programs received a $15 million boost to $175 billion. Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers programs received a $3 million increase to $92 million; President Trump’s budget eliminated this program.


Other areas of note:

The deal included the extension of many programs. Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico and the territories is extended for two years. It was reported that Congressional leaders on a bipartisan basis wanted a four-year extension, but President Trump objected. Funding for Community Health Centers and several other health care programs, as well as funding for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, was only extended through May 22, 2020; it is suggested that perhaps a deal on surprise medical bills and prescription drug costs could be wrapped up at this time.

For the first time in decades, the spending deal includes $25 million to research gun violence at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. The deal also contains $502.5 million, the highest funding level ever, for grants provided by the Office on Violence Against Women.

The bill included $7.6 billion for the Census Bureau, $3.7 billion higher than in FY19, the amount sought by census experts to ensure the department has the resources to carry out the 2020 Decennial Census. The Legal Services Corporation, which provides legal assistance for low-income people with housing, domestic violence, employment, consumer or other legal trouble, received a boost of $25 million to $440 million; President Trump’s budget would have eliminated the program. The Corporation for National and Community Service, which runs programs including AmeriCorps, VISTA and Senior Corp, received a boost of $21 million to $1.1 billion; this program was also eliminated in Trump’s budget.

The spending deal also included several tax provisions; see the related article in this Human Needs Report for more information.