CHN: Current Year Spending Approved By House
It was not quite tectonic, but there was a notable shift in priorities when the House passed a spending bill to finalize this year’s funding in most programs. The House added funds for veterans’ health, low-income housing, K-12 and special education, Head Start, and Pell Grants beyond both last year’s funding and the most proposals for the current year recommended earlier by House and Senate appropriators. The spending bill (totaling $463 billion) did not exceed the cap on annual appropriations placed by the previous Congress, but added money for these human needs programs by cutting about $10 billion from 60 programs. About half the cuts came from rescinding $3.5 billion in unspent highway funds and $1.65 billion in unspent housing funds.
House and Senate leaders had announced in December that they would finish out the fiscal year through a Joint Resolution packaging the 11 out of 13 annual appropriations bills that had not already passed. Action was required because the previous Congress had only provided funding through February 15, and the fiscal year ends September 30. This big bill would for the most part stick to FY 2006 levels, exceeding them only in “anomalous” situations (which seemed to be defined as unacceptably bad). From the outset, it was expected that veterans’ health needs fit the “anomalous” category, in that increasing numbers of injured war veterans need help. The Joint Resolution did add $3.5 billion for VA medical care over the FY 2006 level, and $1.2 billion more for health care for members of the military and their families.
Advocates sought to call attention to other areas where needs were great. The Coalition on Human Needs, working with the Emergency Campaign for America’s Priorities, drafted a letter to House and Senate leadership and members of the Appropriations Committees calling for increases beyond FY 2006 levels for certain low-income housing programs, child care, Head Start, employment services, and the Census Bureau. Without the increases sought, about 300,000 fewer households would live in subsidized units, fewer homeless would be served, services for the unemployed would decline, and further erosion would occur in the number of children served by Head Start and child care. In addition, accurate Census counts showing poverty, lack of health insurance, housing status, and much more would be jeopardized. The letter to Congress was signed by more than 30 prominent organizations. Seehttp://www.chn.org/pdf/2007/JointResLetter.PDF.
The House bill (H.J. Res. 20) did much of what the advocates had asked for. In the Section 8 rental voucher program, $487 million beyond FY 2006 plus a new formula for allocating voucher funds among housing authorities will prevent the loss of any further units and make it possible for some housing authorities to restore some of the 150,000 vouchers lost since 2004. An increase of $939 million in project-based Section 8 housing units will allow renewal of 157,000 units. The public housing operating fund received $300 million above the FY 2006 level. This is still less than the amount HUD says it needs – a 15.5 percent cut instead of 24 percent below the full cost of operating 1.2 million housing units, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. The House bill also increases the amount for homeless assistance grants by $115 million over FY 2006, which should provide shelter for thousands of homeless people.
Head Start has sustained reductions of 11 percent since 2002, taking inflation into account. Flat funding at the FY 2006 level would mean more cuts in program quality and/or enrollment. The House bill adds $104 million more than the FY 2006 levels – less than advocates had sought, but at least a step in the right direction.
Child care funding did not fare so well. Despite the fact that 250,000 fewer children are receiving child care assistance now than in 2000, with further loss expected with level funding, the Joint Resolution included no increase. In addition, adoption incentive payments to states were cut by $12.8 million. These funds reward states for moving children from foster care to the permanency of adoption; advocates will seek restoration of these funds.
The maximum Pell Grant will rise by $260 to $4,310, the first such increase in four years, at a cost of $615 million. The spending bill also provided $200 million beyond the FY 2006 funding of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), to prevent further erosion in the share the federal government pays towards special education costs. K-12 education for low-income students (Title I) received $125 million above FY 2006, intended to provide reading and math instruction to 38,000 children.
Advocates care about Census Bureau funding because it is essential to understand trends in poverty and income, health insurance coverage, housing costs, educational attainment, and many more facts about Americans in order for government to respond appropriately. Level funding of the Census Bureau would have resulted in a less accurate 2010 Census, as well as cuts to other surveys performed by the Bureau. The Joint Resolution fully funds the 2010 Census, and would assure the continuation of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), a survey that tracks individuals over time.
A number of health services received funding higher than FY 2006 as well, including an expansion projected to serve 1.2 million new patients in community health centers (an increase of $207 million), and the Ryan White CARE grants for HIV/AIDS patients (up $76 million).
Although the bill easily passed the House with a bipartisan 286-140 vote, it will not be so easy in the Senate. Senators will seek amendments which could easily lead to exceeding the spending cap. Negotiations are going on to minimize amendments. The Joint Resolution must be completed and signed by the President by February 15 to avoid a cessation of government activities.