CHN: First Fiscal Year 2012 Appropriations Bills Pass Congress

On November 17 the House and Senate both passed a $128.1 billion minibus Appropriations bill, H.R. 2112, that combines funding for FY 2012 for the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Transportation, HUD and Science programs including NASA.  The bill contains an additional $2.3 billion for emergency disaster relief activities.  The House adopted the package 298-121 and the Senate followed, voting 70-30 for passage.  The bill also includes a new continuing resolution (CR) replacing the one that expired on November 18 that will keep discretionary programs not in the minibus funded through December 16.
The minibus bill adheres to the $1.043 trillion funding cap for the 12 annual appropriations bills established under the Budget Control Act (PL 112-25) passed in August.  The 10-year discretionary caps in the act will provide overall funding at below inflation-adjusted levels.  HUD housing programs in FY 2012 reflect the effect of the tight caps.

Housing  H.R. 2112 provides $37.3 billion in new budget authority for HUD, an amount $3.8 billion (9.2 percent) below FY 2011 funding and lower than any HUD budget since 2003 when adjusted for inflation.  Programs hit the hardest include the Section 8 rental voucher program, public housing capital repairs, housing programs for the elderly, the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), and HOME production program.  The bill provides $130 million less than HUD’s estimated cost for renewing all Section 8 vouchers, with the outcome likely to result in the loss of 12,000-18,000 vouchers currently used by low-income families.  The bill provides $1.875 billion for the public housing capital fund, $165 million (8 percent) below FY 2011 funding, putting thousands of current residents at risk of living in substandard housing because of inadequate maintenance.  HUD estimates that there is a backlog of over $26 billion in public housing capital needs and that will continue to grow in 2012.  Section 202 Housing for the Elderly is funded at $374 million, 6 percent below FY 2011 funding.  This is sufficient to renew existing contracts but will not result new units being created.  There are deep reductions in two block grant programs, HOME and CDBG.  Tens of thousands of affordable housing units will not be constructed because HOME was cut from $1.6 billion in FY 2011 to $1 billion.  CDBG flexible grants which can be used to create housing were cut from the FY 2011 level of $3.34 billion to $2.95 billion in FY 2012.  Housing for persons with disabilities received an increase in funding from $150 million in FY 2011 to $165 million in FY 2012.  Funding for homeless assistance grants is unchanged at $1.9 billion.  See the National Low Income Housing Coalition budget chart for HUD programs.

Nutrition Programs  H.R. 2112 funds the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) at $6.62 billion, enough to cover the current and projected caseload.  The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) which predominately serves low-income seniors is funded at $176.8 million, enough to continue serving existing caseloads.  It did not however, provide the $5 million needed to expand service to six USDA-approved states.  The Emergency Assistance Food Program (TEFAP) received $260.3 million in mandatory funding, reflecting the level established by the 2008 Farm Bill plus an adjustment for food price inflation. Funding will increase for other mandatory programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), school lunch and breakfast programs, and the summer feeding program.  Find a full list of discretionary and mandatory nutrition programs funded by the Department of Agriculture from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC).  Congress did push back on USDA efforts to require more nutritious school lunches with more fruits and vegetables by allowing pizza made with minimal tomato paste to count as a vegetable.

Congress had hoped to continue moving the remaining 9 appropriations bills in a series of minibus bills.  That effort was thwarted when Senate Democratic leaders attempted to bring a second minibus package to the floor that included the Energy-Water, Financial Services and State-Foreign Operations bills.  Several senators objected to various provisions in the bills and one member, Senator Vitter (R-LA), objected to the overall funding level, leading to a procedural impasse.  It now seems likely that the 9 remaining appropriations bills will be combined in an omnibus bill in December.  Many hurdles remain as some conservatives in the House would like to reduce the agreed-upon overall funding level.  Controversial language in the Labor-HHS-Education, State-Foreign Operations and Interior-Environment bills will present challenges that must be resolved.  Appropriators will likely use a must-pass bill like the Defense bill as the vehicle to carry the other 8 bills.

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