CHN: Congress Passes Massive Spending Bill

On Saturday, November 20 the House and Senate cleared a massive spending bill that funds nine of the thirteen appropriations bills for fiscal year 2005. The final conference report (HR 4818 , H Rept 108-792) contains $388.4 billion in discretionary spending, including money for the Departments of Labor, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, Justice and several other agencies.
Many human needs programs were hit with cuts for the third year in a row. In the final conference report all discretionary programs not related to defense and homeland security were cut 0.8 percent . Congress made the across-the-board cuts so the bill would fit under a tight overall spending cap agreed to by the President and Republican lawmakers earlier this year. The spending cap was set at a level far below what was needed to keep promises made by the President — and below what was needed to maintain current services after inflation.

Although cuts in some human needs programs appear to be relatively small, they result in very real reductions in services and a decline in the number of needy families who can get the housing, education, training and child care help they need to succeed.

The spending bill is not quite ready for the President’s signature. In a bizarre twist, Congressional staff discovered language at the last moment that allowed members of the Appropriations committee or their staff to examine U.S. taxpayers’ individual tax returns. Republicans agreed to strip the provision through a resolution that will be adopted in a pro-forma session of the House on December 6. (The Senate stripped the provision in their vote on November 20.) In the meantime, the government will continue to operate on a continuing resolution.

How Human Needs Programs Fared

Section 8 Housing Vouchers

The bill provides $13.36 billion for funding existing Section 8 vouchers. This amount – a small increase over last year – would be sufficient for maintaining current vouchers, except the bill includes rules for how housing authorities must develop their budget. The rules will affect how HUD distributes money to housing authorities and advocates fear the language would allow HUD to decrease the value and restrict the use of vouchers.

Public Housing

Community planning and development and other housing programs are cut $378 million in 2005. These programs cover housing for the elderly, construction of affordable housing, and community development projects. HOPE VI, Native American Housing Block Grants, housing for the disabled and for people with AIDS were all cut. (For more information: National Low Income Housing Coaltion: Housing Programs Cut in Omnibus )

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)

LIHEAP is funded at $2.2 billion, including $300 million in emergency funds, an increase over last year. Advocates had sought more funding both for the regular and emergency allocations, noting that the $1.9 million regular appropriation is about the same as it was in 1982, while the cost of living has doubled.. The program serves only about 17 percent of the 30 million households eligible to receive help and fuel prices are expected to rise steeply this winter.

Title I – No Child Left Behind

Title I receives a $500 million increase to $12.8 billion, $7.7 billion below the level authorized by President Bush in the No Child Left Behind Act.

Child Care and Development Block Grant

As in the past several years, child care funding is frozen (minus the across-the-board cut) at a little less than $2.1 billion. This amount is more than $40 million below what CBO estimates is necessary to maintain services at the 2004 level. Since 2002, the purchasing power of CCDBG has dropped by 6.5 percent.

Head Start

The bill sets aside $6.841 billion for Head Start, slightly more than last year, but less than the amount needed to keep pace with inflation and less than the $6.9 billion requested by the President.

21st Century Community Learning Centers

After-school care was funded at $990 million, below the $1 billion proposed by the Senate and a level that will cause 40,000 children to lose access to this after-school program.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

The bill provides IDEA with $10.7 billion, an increase of $607 million, far below the $1 billion increase passed by the House and the $1.2 billion increase agreed to by the Senate. IDEA law intends that the federal government reimburse states up to 40 percent of the costs of providing special education, but current funding reimburses states only 19 percent of the costs.

Workforce Investment Act (WIA) adult and youth grants

The omnibus funds adult job training programs at $890 million, about $8 million below the level funded in 2003. Youth job training programs receives $985 million, below the $1 billion approved by the House bill and about $9 million less than last year.

Vocation and Technical Education and Adult Basic Education

Funding for vocational education and adult basic education is flat for 2005, minus the across-the-board cut that affected all domestic discretionary programs. Vocational and technical education receives $1.3 billion and adult basic and literacy education receives $585 million.

Job Corps

The popular intensive job training program for youth receives $1.5 billion in FY 2005, essentially flat funded from 2004.

Women, Infants and Children (WIC)

WIC receives $5.3 billion, a ten percent increase over the President’s request. (For more information on nutrition appropriations, see FRAC Congress to Approve Omnibus Conference Report .)

Juvenile Justice/ Delinquency Prevention

The new Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JABG), created in 2002, was slashed to $54.5 million dollars, down from last year’s level of $59.4 million and just a fraction of its 2002 level of $249.5 million. Title V grants for local delinquency prevention programs was funded at $79.3 million, about the same as last year but far below the 2002 level of $94.3 million. (The President requested just $39 million for this program.) Total juvenile justice funding in fiscal year 2005 is $346.2 million, down from $546.9 million in 2002.

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