CHN: Congress Passes Budget Outline; President Fills in the Blanks

When Congress passed its Budget Resolution on April 27, it generally endorsed the President’s priorities.  The Budget Resolution only answers some of the year’s policy-making questions:  what, and, at least as far as the annual appropriations bottom line is concerned, how much.  Advocates were pleased with the “what” answers:  Congress committed to grapple with comprehensive health care reform and climate change, two of the President’s top priorities.  The Budget Resolution also commits Congress to many other legislative tasks, including reauthorizing child nutrition programs, making student loans cheaper by reducing the role of private lenders, and creating a home visiting program for new parents, as the President proposed.
For the most part, the Budget Resolution is silent on “how.”  It sets up a “reserve fund” for health reform, for example, but that is only a place-holder for all the work to come.  Nothing is prescribed about how health coverage will be expanded, how much it will cost, or how it will be paid for.  The reserve fund will allow Congress to work out those answers in the coming months.  For health care and student loans, Congress showed its serious commitment to take action by requiring legislation to be taken up in the Senate by October 15.  Debate would be limited (no filibusters) so that the legislation can pass with a simple majority.  (For more on the road ahead for health care, see the article in this issue.)  The Budget Resolution creates a welter of reserve funds.  (See the description of reserve funds and more detail on all these place-holders:

As for “how much,” the Budget Resolution provides a total of $1.086 trillion for annual appropriations, agreeing with the President’s total recommendation for military spending and cutting his non-defense recommendation by about $10 billion, to $529.8 billion.  The Budget Resolution allows the possibility of more spending in certain areas if Congress later chooses to adopt the greater spending levels.  These “cap adjustments” include a possible additional $1.9 billion for home energy assistance (LIHEAP), $485 million more for Social Security Administration disability reviews and Supplemental Security Income redeterminations, $311 million more for HHS health care fraud and abuse control, and $50 million for Department of Labor Unemployment Insurance payment reviews.

Now, as the Appropriations Committees prepare to divide up this amount among a dozen subcommittees, the President has released the detailed version of his budget, showing proposed funding levels for each annually appropriated program.  Congress will now have the job of trying to squeeze the President’s recommendations into the smaller total they approved.

The President’s Detailed Budget

The President’s proposals provide some real progress in areas he has established as priorities, especially when combined with funding still available from the economic recovery bill.  In particular, there are education and early childhood initiatives aimed at improving success from preschool through college.  There are also expansions aimed at reducing health disparities and job training and development proposals.  The WIC program (nutritious food for pregnant women and young children) would grow to meet the rising caseload.

Although the President’s budget shows above-inflation growth in areas of special importance to low-income and vulnerable people, overall growth in federal departments with a substantial focus on human needs is fairly small.  Leaving aside expenditures passed as part of the economic recovery act, discretionary spending (annual appropriations) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services actually declines by a fraction of a percentage point from FY 2009 to FY 2010.  Discretionary spending within the Department of Housing and Urban Development rises 7.9 percent; within the Department of Education, the increase is 2.9 percent.  The Food and Nutrition Service within the Department of Agriculture increases 3.4 percent.

The examples described below show modest expansions, including some new initiatives, aimed at certain especially vulnerable groups.  In general, because of the substantial investments through the economic recovery act, services to help people find jobs, meet health and nutrition needs, care for children, and secure housing will expand in FY 2010.  Because the economic recovery money will run out for most programs by the end of FY 2010, it is important for the regular funding for many services to expand at least gradually, in order to provide continuity and meet growing need.  (For more details, see CHN table comparing the President’s proposal to FYs 2005 and 2009:

With 13.7 million people unemployed and 5.7 million jobs lost since the start of the recession, expansion of services for vulnerable people is essential.  Some of those who will receive more help after years of cuts include:

Babies, Toddlers, and Young Children:

  • Head Start and Early Head Start grow by $122 million in the President’s plan, from a combined $7.113 billion in FY 2009 to $7.235 billion in FY 2010.  From FYs 2005-2009, Head Start was cut 6 percent, taking inflation into account.  The growth is in addition to the $2.1 billion in temporary economic recovery funding.  Together, the proposal will support doubling the number of children in Early Head Start, to 115,000.  (Department of Health and Human Services)
  • Early learning is emphasized, with a new $300 million Early Learning Challenge Fund in the Department of Education; a 44 percent increase in Early Reading First; a greatly expanded Striving Readers program (rising from $35 million to $370 million); and $500 million in Title I Early Childhood Grants (for low-income school districts, using funding from the economic recovery bill).  The President would terminate the Even Start program, which is intended to help parents improve their literacy while helping their children learn.  Both this and the previous Administration have cited research findings that Even Start is not effective.  The Obama Administration has committed more than the $66 million in Even Start funding towards other approaches to early learning, although basic skills and literacy training for adults is not well-funded.
  • New parents with low incomes would receive home visits to assist them with information and help for their new baby through an initiative highlighted by the Obama Administration.  This would be a mandatory program (not needing annual appropriations) with a cost of $124 million in FY 2010, and a ten-year cost of $1.8 billion.  (Health and Human Services)

Low-income youth:

  • YouthBuild provides education and experience in construction trades for low-income young people; its funding would rise from $70 million to $114 million – up 63 percent.  Participants would increase from 4,340 this year to 7,100 in FY 2010.  (Department of Labor)
  • The larger Youth Activities programs under the Labor Department’s Workforce Investment Act are level-funded, with no increase in the 247,408 served this year.  (The economic recovery act provided an additional $1.2 billion for youth activities over FYs 2009-2010.)
  • The Administration recommends a new High school graduation initiative, to reduce high dropout rates, funded at $50m.  In addition, a new mandatory College Access and Completion Fund would experiment with ways of improving college graduation rates among low-income students.  It would receive $500 million in FY 2010 ($2.5 billion over 5 years).   (Department of Education)
  • Teen pregnancy prevention would be expanded by $15 million, from $95 million to $110 million, a 16 percent increase.  The increased funding is intended to replace an abstinence education program that the Administration will not seek to renew.  (Health and Human Services)
  • The maximum annual Pell Grant size would increase to $5,550 in the President’s proposal.  The Administration would convert Pell Grants to a mandatory program, to avoid annual fights over appropriations.  (Education)

Children at risk of abuse/neglect:

  • The President proposes a new initiative for innovative approaches to foster care, funded at $20 million in appropriations for Child Welfare Research, Training, and Demonstration projects, which will rise from $7 million to $27 million.  This project is intended to reduce long-term foster care placements.  (Health and Human Services)
  • The new Home Visiting program listed above is seen by child welfare advocates as a positive preventive measure.
  • Help to encourage kinship care (Kinship Guardian and Family Connections programs) and bonuses (Adoption Incentives) for states that succeed in placing more children into adoption also receive increases in the President’s budget.  (Health and Human Services)
  • Despite these modest gains, many child welfare services remain flat-funded.

The hungry:

  • The Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program (WIC) is up $917 million over FY 2009 (a 13 percent increase), which is now estimated as enough to support a 9.8 million person caseload.  (Department of Agriculture)
  • Child Nutrition programs including school meals and summer and afterschool food would be reauthorized with an increase of $1 billion a year,  Anti-hunger advocates have been seeking a larger increase in these mandatory Department of Agriculture programs.

The homeless and those struggling to afford housing:

  • Homeless assistance grants will rise 7 percent under the President’s budget, from $1.68 billion to $1.79 billion.  This is in addition to the $1.5 billion provided for homelessness prevention in the economic recovery legislation.
  • PATH state homelessness grants would increase nearly 14 percent, to $68 million, for mental health services for the homeless.
  • The President’s budget includes $1 billion in start-up capitalization for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which will invest in rental housing production for low-income households.
  • The Public Housing Operating Fund will receive enough funding to fully cover federal operating subsidies for 3,200 local Public Housing Authorities, an increase of $145 million.
  • Rental vouchers (Section 8) funding is increased by $1 billion, which is expected to fund renewals of expiring contracts with private rental properties.  Fully funding these renewals is essential to avoid a serious loss of affordable housing.  Actual increases in the number of vouchers available is also badly needed, but the President’s budget does not support expanding the number of vouchers.  (Department of Housing and Urban Development)

People with substance abuse problems: 

  • Treatment would rise by $46 million, from $412 million to $458 million.  (Health and Human Services)

People with mental illness:

  • Children’s mental health would rise $17 million, from $108 million to $125 million, after shrinking 7 percent between FY 2005 and FY 2009.  (Health and Human Services)


  • Services for refugees, including medical care and help for children here on their own would increase 17%, from $633 million to $741 million. (Health and Human Services)

Now that the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have the Administration’s detailed recommendations, they have scheduled many hearings to ask questions of Administration officials.  The House has 14 subcommittee hearings scheduled for the week of May 11, including a hearing of the Labor, Health and Education Subcommittee on Tuesday, May 12, with Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis testifying (this hearing will be webcast, starting at 10:00 a.m.).  Secretary Solis will also make an appearance at a Senate Labor-HHS Subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, May 13 at 9:45 a.m.  In all, 5 Senate Appropriations Subcommittees will hold hearings this week.

Appropriators hope to move some bills out of subcommittee before the Memorial Day Recess (May 25-29), but they are now working on a supplemental spending bill with additional war funding for the current fiscal year, and still must divide up the appropriations totals agreed to in the Budget Resolution among the subcommittees.  The upcoming hearings will provide early indications of whether committee members will be inclined to go along with the increases and cuts proposed by the Obama Administration.

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