CHN: Senate Democrats’ FY22 Spending Bills Released

On October 18, Senate Democrats released their remaining nine FY22 spending bills. The Senate bills would increase spending on non-defense (domestic and international) discretionary programs, also known as NDD, by roughly 13 percent over FY21 levels. Most education and housing programs fall into this category, plus many social service, public health, veterans’ services, criminal justice, homeland security, environmental and community development programs. Funding for defense programs would increase by roughly 5 percent over FY21 in the Senate FY22 spending bills.

These numbers differ from the House bills, which would increase NDD spending by roughly 16 percent and increase defense spending by roughly 2 percent over FY21. The increases in the House bills closely align with the increases called for in President Biden’s FY22 budget request. Republicans have called for “parity,” or equal increases for both defense and nondefense. The FY22 spending bills are the first ones in a decade that are not limited by the low spending caps for discretionary (annually-appropriated) programs previously required by the Budget Control Act.

According to the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Senate Labor – Health and Human Services – Education (Labor-H) spending bill would provide $33.1 billion for Title I grants to high-poverty schools, up $16.6 billion over FY21. This would be the largest increase in the program’s history, but it is short of the $36 billion the House bill and president’s budget would provide. The bill would also boost the maximum Pell Grant amount by $400, matching an increase in Biden’s request and the House bill. Minority-serving institutions, including historically Black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions, would receive $1.1 billion, a $295 million increase from current funding; the president’s proposal increased this by $600 million. Funding for federal TRIO programs would increase $186 million over FY21, shy of the $201 million increase in the House bill. The bill did not contain a provision in the House bill and president’s budget to allow Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) participants to receive Pell Grants.

Among the Department of Health and Human Services programs, the Senate bill provides $9.73 billion for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), $1.8 billion more than last year’s funding, but about $900 million less than the House has proposed. Both Senate and House have proposed $153 million for programs related to Social Determinants of Health, a substantial $150 million increase over last year’s start-up funding. The Senate Democratic appropriators are proposing $32.3 billion for all the Administration for Children and Families programs, $1 billion more than the House version, and more than $5 billion higher than last year. That includes $7.3 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant, about $100 million less than the House bill. (These annual appropriations are in addition to the new child care funding expected to be approved over the next decade through the Build Back Better legislation; see the Build Back Better article elsewhere in this edition). Head Start receives $11.9 billion in the Senate proposal, $300 million less than the House version; both are higher than last year’s funding.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is funded at $9.1 billion in the Senate bill, short of the House’s $9.16 billion but more than $3 billion higher than last year’s funding, in response to the continued alarming levels of substance use disorders as well as increasing need for mental health related to the pandemic.

The Senate bill significantly increases funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement under HHS, with $6 billion ($4.1 billion over last year’s funding and $1.4 billion more than the House bill provides). The largest share of these funds is for Unaccompanied Children (funded at $4.9 billion in the Senate bill, about $1.5 billion more than the House), intended to respond to the large influx of migrants at our Southern border.

The Senate Labor-H bill would also provide $278.7 million for the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division to help enforce laws surrounding issues like the federal minimum wage and overtime pay, and $120 million for YouthBuild – up $24 million over FY21, but $25 million less than the House bill and president’s budget. The Senate bill includes $3.9 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which provides heating and cooling assistance to about 6 million low-income households; this is an increase of $175 million over FY21 and roughly $50 million more than the House bill. Similar to the House bill, the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), which provides operating expenses for roughly 1,100 poverty-fighting community action agencies, would receive $800 million in the Senate bill, up $24.7 million over FY21 and up $46 million over the president’s budget.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the Senate Transportation – Housing and Urban Development (THUD) spending bill provides critical funding for affordable housing programs at levels greater than FY21, but unfortunately does not include the major expansion of rental assistance proposed by both President Biden and the House. The House bill would expand rental assistance to 125,000 additional households, while President Biden requested expanding the program to serve 200,000 additional households. The Senate bill likely provides enough funding to renew all existing contracts provided through Housing Choice Vouchers and Project-Based Rental Assistance but does not include expanded rental assistance. The Senate bill calls for $3.8 billion for the public housing capital fund, an increase of $852 million over the FY21 enacted level, $76 million more than what was provided in the House bill, and $116 million more than the president’s request. The Senate bill proposes funding the HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME) at $1.45 billion, $400 million less than the House proposal and president’s request, but $100 million above FY21 enacted levels. It would also provide $227 million to support affordable, accessible housing for people with disabilities; this amount is same amount enacted for FY21 and is $125 million less than provided in the House bill and $45 million less than the president’s request. For more details on the Senate HUD proposal and how it differs from the House and Biden proposals, see NLIHC’s budget chart and full analysis.

Similar to the House bill, the Senate Defense Department spending bill would do away with separate funding for the previously uncapped and controversial Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account and instead roll this money into the base defense funding. Both House and Senate spending bills for the Department of Homeland Security would rescind $1.9 billion in previous border wall funding. For more information, see a topline summary and a summary of each bill from the Senate Appropriations Committee.

At first glance, Senate Dems seem to spend $30 billion less than their House counterparts on NDD programs. However, Senators used a few different accounting tactics that lessen the actual difference in spending in the two chambers. In the Labor-H bill, for example, the Senate’s base allocation appears to be nearly $17 billion below the House’s. However, according to CQ, the Senate bill would reclaim more unspent dollars from the Children’s Health Insurance Program than the House bill. This practice of using savings from mandatory programs to boost discretionary spending, known as Changes in Mandatory Programs or CHIMPs, means that the actual difference between the two FY22 Labor-H bills would be roughly $7 billion, and that the Senate bill would provide a nearly 25 percent increase over FY21 for programs in its jurisdiction. CHIMPs have been used in the past to loosen spending caps for domestic programs. Senate Dems also used a special “cap adjustment” to exempt $7.6 billion in veterans’ private medical care funding that will not count against the regular budget allocation. Taking cap adjustments and CHIMPs into account, the difference in total nondefense spending between the House and Senate shrinks from $30 billion to just $13 billion.

To date, the House has passed nine of its 12 spending bills, including seven that were bundled together and passed – along party lines – in July. The Senate Appropriations Committee earlier approved three bills but hasn’t yet reached agreement on how to divide funding among all the subcommittees (known as the 302(b) allocations). The Committee has an even number of Republicans and Democrats, so needs some bipartisan agreement to approve bills in committee. The Committee is not expected to take up the nine newly-released bills, though Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has said he would like to see them get a floor vote.

However, appropriations bills need 60 votes – and therefore Republican support – to pass in the Senate. As Republicans oppose the higher nondefense and lower defense funding levels used in the House and Senate bills, Democratic and Republican leaders will need to agree on both topline funding levels and subcommittee allocations to get appropriations bills passed. The Senate bills may therefore serve more as a starting point for these negotiations. Agreements would have to happen within the coming weeks if Congress is going to be able to pass all 12 FY22 spending bills before the current stopgap spending bill, known as a Continuing Resolution or CR, expires Dec. 3. If this doesn’t happen, another CR would be needed come Dec. 3.

Because Congress is consumed with the Build Back Better and infrastructure package, FY22 appropriations bills could get pushed off until the new year. However, advocates warn that additional stopgap bills mean lost opportunity to increase badly needed funding levels for human needs programs for this fiscal year. Under a CR, most government agencies and programs see flat funding levels from FY21 spending bills, which were enacted under President Trump.

There is some talk that Senate appropriators could try to come to agreement on two years’ worth of topline spending levels rather than just for this year, similar to budget cap deals Congress has made many times in the past.