CHN: Congress Starts Work on Appropriations

Despite the lack of a fiscal year 2005 budget resolution, House and Senate appropriators have begun making decisions on next year’s spending levels for the programs that must be appropriated annually – known as the “discretionary” programs. Lawmakers have agreed to a total discretionary spending amount of $821 billion to fund the government next fiscal year. This amount is higher than last year’s $785.8 billion but even less the President recommended in his fiscal year 2005 budget ($823 billion). The President’s budget included cuts in a number of human needs programs.
The full House Appropriations Committee has already marked up bills funding the Commerce, Justice and State departments and the Agriculture department as well as some other spending bills (Defense, Homeland Security, Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Interior). Congress must approve 13 appropriations bills each year, although observers say it is likely Congress will wrap up at least some of these bills into an omnibus bill later this fall.

The bill that funds the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-HHS) has not been marked up in either the House or the Senate yet. Typically the Labor-HHS bill – which funds many human needs programs – is one of the most contentious and difficult to pass, and therefore likely to end up in a catch-all omnibus bill.

Juvenile Justice Cuts Rejected
Although President Bush recommended cutting juvenile justice and delinquency prevention programs by 40 percent in his FY 2005 budget, House appropriators abandoned the President’s plans when it approved the Commerce, Justice, and State appropriations bill on June 23. Thanks in part to pressure from youth advocates, the committee rejected the President’s proposed elimination of the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JABG), funding it at last year’s level of $60 million, and rejected the President’s proposed 50 percent cut in Title V, funding it at last year’s level of $80 million. JABG and Title V support research-proven prevention and intervention programs for at-risk and troubled kids.

Inadequate Funding for WIC
The House Apropriations Committee passed the Agriculture annual spending bill on June 23. The committee funded the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) at $4.9 billion, $295 million above last year’s level. However, food and nutrition advocates are concerned that the WIC level will not be enough to meet projected need in the coming year and are urging Senate appropriators to provide more funding in the Senate Agriculture appropriations bill. In addition, advocates are concerned about cuts made by House appropriators to the audit funds of the Child and Adult Care Food Program. Advocates say appropriators must provide $6.5 million to maintain current services.

House and Senate Appropriators have much more work to do on appropriations bills when they return from the July 4 recess. However, lawmakers will be in session for just three weeks in July before breaking for the national party conventions.

For More Information
Status of appropriations bills on THOMAS
Fight Crime: Invest in Kids for information on juvenile justice and delinquency prevention programs
Food Research and Action Center for information on WIC and other food and nutrition programs

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