CHN: Congress Works Out This Year’s Funding as February Deadline Looms

The 109th Congress creaked to an end without having approved most of the annual appropriations bills for the current fiscal year.  Instead, they passed another temporary measure keeping bare minimum funding (or less) going through February 15.  The 110th Congress is now at work on enacting a spending bill to last through next September 30, the end of FY 2007.  As previously reported, House and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairs David Obey (D-WI) and Robert Byrd (D-WV), respectively, agreed that they would bundle the remaining spending bills into a joint resolution, with funding in most cases stuck at the FY 2006 level.  (See HNR, December 19, 2006,  They promised to provide more than the FY 2006 levels in a limited number of areas where flat funding causes egregious hardships.  The bill is expected to provide dollars but little by way of instruction to agencies or changed policies.  It will close the books on this year to allow work to begin soon on FY 2008.
Congressional staff are now reporting that the joint resolution may come to the House floor during the week of January 29, and that many decisions about funding are being made now.  Appropriators are now deciding which services have needs that warrant an increase beyond FY 2006 levels.  They have found $5 – $6 billion to tap for these purposes without exceeding the $873 billion spending cap for annual appropriations set by Congress last year.  Veterans’ health services are expected to receive a big chunk of those funds to meet the needs of the surge in injured Iraq War veterans.  The Coalition on Human Needs and the Emergency Campaign for America’s Priorities (ECAP) have identified a few key areas that must have funds beyond their FY 2006 levels to avoid serious losses.  Members of these groups are working together to inform appropriators about the need to avoid hurting low-income people.

The groups are sending a letter to appropriators seeking funds beyond the FY 2006 levels for low-income housing and homelessness programs, child care, Head Start, and state employment services.  Close to 200,000 rental housing units could be lost if funding is not increased  – in many cases driving low-income people out of their subsidized apartments, even though they have nowhere else to turn.  Programs specifically at risk include rental vouchers under the Section 8 housing program (where 130,000 vouchers have already been lost just since 2004), and units in projects subsidized through Section 8.  Other public housing units are also threatened, as are 14,000 homeless people who will not be able to receive services under Homelessness Assistance Grants.

Long-term flat funding of child care has resulted in 250,000 fewer children receiving child care assistance since FY 2000; advocates are seeking an increase to prevent further erosion.  Similarly, Head Start has lost 11 percent of its funds since FY 2002, forcing programs to cut hours, transportation, or other services; advocates are looking for funding to prevent further loss of services or curtailed enrollment.

More funds to Employment Services grants would prevent loss of job search and placement help especially needed by low-income, minority, rural, veterans, and long-term unemployed workers.  These grants have been cut by 16 percent from FY 2002 through FY 2006.

Although not a direct service, advocates have come together in support of adequate Census Bureau funding, because the decennial census and various surveys are vital to illuminating poverty and the lack of health care, housing, education, and more.

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