CHN: Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Bill Passes The House
Senate Floor is Next Step
On July 10 the House passed the FY 2004 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill (H.R. 2660). The $470 billion measure was approved by a vote of 215-208. The full Senate appropriations committee completed its mark-up on June 25 and the Senate plans to take up the bill (S. 1356) before the August recess. The House bill provides $138.3 billion in discretionary spending, $46 million more than the President’s request and $445 million more than the Senate bill. The discretionary funding represents a $3.7 billion increase over FY 2003, but most programs and services for low-income families were flat funded or increased below inflation.
The House turned back an amendment offered by Rep. George Miller (D-CA) and Rep. David Obey (D-WI) that would have prevented the Department of Labor from implementing proposed new rules on overtime pay. The Department of Labor claims that an additional 1.3 million low-wage workers would become eligible for overtime pay under the new rules. But unions and workers’ advocates have calculated the rules could make as many as eight million workers in white-collar professions ineligible for overtime pay. Democrats in the Senate have vowed to bring up a vote on a similar amendment when the bill reaches the floor.
Funding for adult training and youth training programs under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) does not keep pace with inflation. WIA adult training is funded at $900 million and youth training at $1 billion. Dislocated worker assistance is level funded and Job Corps receives a $28 million increase.
Health and Human Services
The House bill provides $1.8 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), $200 million below the President’s request. Citing increasing energy costs and unmet need, advocates have proposed funding LIHEAP at $3.4 billion. There are small funding increases for substance abuse treatment and prevention programs, the Ryan White AIDS program and the Maternal and Child Health Block grant. The children’s mental health program receives an increase of $10 million, although most of that new funding is offset by cuts in other mental health programs.
Although President Bush’s budget cut $400 million from after-school programs for children and youth, the House bill holds the program at the FY 2003 funding level of $1 billion. The bill funds Head Start at $6.8 billion, a $148 million increase that barely keeps up with inflation. Funding for discretionary child care assistance is level funded at $2.1 billion, which the Children’s Defense Fund estimates will cause thousands of children to lose their child care assistance this year. At least 32 states have made or planned to make cuts in child care slots this year and fewer than one in seven children who are eligible for federal child care assistance gets it.
The bill provides $100 million in discretionary funds for the Promoting Safe and Stable Families child welfare program, just half of the level recommended by the President. Grants to states for community services suffer a $150 million cut below the FY 2003 funding level.
Title I is the largest source of federal aid to disadvantaged youth and is the centerpiece of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind education reform act. But the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill fails to fulfill the promise of that bill by funding Title I far below the levels authorized in the reform bill. The bill funds Title I at $12.4 billion, more than $6 billion below its authorized level. Education for children with disabilities (IDEA Part B grants to states) receives a $1 billion increase, a $1.2 billion smaller increase than the level authorized in the FY 2004 budget resolution. The House bill increases slightly the funding for Pell Grants to $12.25 billion dollars, although a new Congressional Research Service report finds that the Education Department’s new funding formula will cause thousands of students to lose their aid. Vocational education grants to states are flat funded.
Although it is often the most contentious spending bill, the Labor-HHS-Education bill has moved unusually quickly this year. If the Senate passes a measure next week, the bill will go to conference this fall.