CHN: House Committee Approves Labor-HHS-Education Spending and a Minimum Wage Hike

Move to a Floor Vote Appears Stalled
The House Appropriations Committee approved the FY 2007 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill by voice vote on June 13.  The spending bill included $141.9 billion for a vast array of human needs programs:  education, training and employment services, protections for children from abuse or neglect, energy assistance, Head Start and child care, health and certain nutrition services, and much more.  The funding level is up less than one percent above the current year (0.6 percent), which means it is not enough to cover inflation increases.  Losses are even more substantial when compared to spending in FY 2005.  In a look at 72 programs or groups of programs within this appropriations bill, the Coalition on Human Needs has found that 67 are cut below FY 2005 levels, taking inflation into account.  For example, job training for adults and youths is cut 9 and 10 percent, respectively, compared with inflation-adjusted FY 2005 levels.  Mental health and substance abuse treatment services are reduced, as are child welfare services.  Head Start analysts had said that if funding remained level with this year, the erosion from inflation would lead to 25,000 fewer children enrolled in Head Start.  The bill’s funding for Head Start actually cuts $90 million compared with FY 2006; compared to FY 2005, Head Start is cut 6 percent.

The spending bill also fails to continue increases in heating and cooling assistance (the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP) enacted last year, causing the FY 2007 level to be $1.05 billion less than FY 2006.  With energy prices continuing to skyrocket, if communities are dropped back to only $2.1 billion, struggling households will either see a major reduction in aid or will do without altogether.  Similarly, the Committee eliminated a $550 million increase made this year to the Social Services Block Grant, dropping the funding back to $1.7 billion, where it has been stuck for many years.  Since FY 2002, the Social Services Block Grant has declined by 12 percent, counting inflation.  The bill also makes a 33 percent cut to the Community Services Block Grant compared with FY 2005.  CSBG provides funds to community agencies that administer energy aid, weatherization, Head Start, job training, and other services.

Education also receives cuts in this bill, despite the promises of leaving no child behind.  K-12 education for disadvantaged students is level-funded compared with FY 2006, but is cut 5 percent below the FY 2005 inflation-adjusted level.  State grants to improve teacher quality drops by 16 percent compared with FY 2005 funding.  The maximum annual Pell grant for higher education scholarships does rise by $100 to $4,150, but there is a slight decline in the funding from the FY 2006 level, so the result will not be an aggregate gain in the scholarship money available to low-income students.

In a surprise move, Rep. Hoyer (D-MD) offered an amendment to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 by January 2009.  The increase passed, 32 to 27.  Most observers believe that the House leadership will take steps to drop the minimum wage provision from the Labor-H bill by the time it gets to the House floor.  Meanwhile, Senator Kennedy (D-MA) will try again to get a vote on raising the minimum wage as an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill.  He’ll offer the amendment on Monday, June 19, with the vote expected to occur on Wednesday June 21.

Initial plans to take the Labor-HHS-Ed appropriations bill to the floor during the week of June 19 appear to be shelved for now.  It is not known at this writing if the bill will get to a floor vote during the week of June 26 (before the July 4 recess), or if there will be a longer delay.  There has been speculation that the unpopularity of the cuts could cause Congress to stall action until after the election.  Advocates will seek to hold members of Congress accountable for decisions about funding these critical priorities, and will use the House Appropriations Committee proposal as a starting place to explain the dangers of cutting services vitally needed by people and communities nationwide.

For more information, see the United Way of America website, **BROKEN LINK**

For a detailed table from the House Appropriations Committee, see

Budget and Appropriations
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