CHN: Senate Committee Agrees to Labor-HHS-Education Spending Bill

Some Programs Fare Better in Senate Than House
Congress moved one step closer to approving fiscal year 2006 funding for a wide range of education, health, workforce training and human service programs when the Senate Appropriations Committee approved H.R. 3010 by a vote of 27 to 0 on July 14. The House approved the spending bill June 24. (See story in Human Needs Report .)

Spending Totals

The Senate bill provides $145.7 billion next year for discretionary programs (programs that must be appropriated each year) within the Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services. (The total size of the bill is $604 billion – but that amount includes mandatory spending for programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, which cannot be controlled by the appropriators.) The House version provides $142.5 billion in discretionary funding.

Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), chairman of the appropriations subcommittee in charge of the bill, managed to boost the total discretionary spending through accounting maneuvers. First, the committee voted to deny Medicaid and Medicare funding to pay for impotence treatment drugs, which saved $105 million. (The House had adopted a similar amendment during floor consideration.)

Second, Senator Specter pushed $3.3 billion in Supplemental Security Income payments back by a few days from fiscal 2006 to fiscal 2007. SSI recipients who would normally get a check on Friday, September 29, 2006 would instead get a check on Monday, October 2. Although supportive of the additional discretionary funding allowed by Specter’s creative accounting, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities expressed caution about the possible impact on the extremely low-income recipients who rely on SSI. The Consortium urged the committee to instruct the Social Security Administration to alert SSI recipients of the one-time change. It is not clear if the additional funds created by this move will survive a conference agreement with the House.

Spending by Program

Some human needs programs fared better in the Senate bill than the House bill, but many programs received the same amount in each bill. Many human needs programs are “level-funded ” receiving the same amount of funding as last year. But level funding is a misnomer because inflation erodes the value of a program that receives the same nominal amount year after year so that fewer services can be provided over time.

The Senate committee rejected the deep cuts to workforce training programs that were part of the House bill. Youth Training and Dislocated Worker Assistance under the Workforce Investment Act were funded at last year’s levels while Adult Training programs were cut by $3 million from last year’s level. In stark contrast, the House slashed adult training by $30.8 million (- 3.4 percent, not adjusted for inflation), youth training by $36.2 million (- 3.6 percent), and dislocated worker assistance by $70.8 million (- 4.7 percent). Funding for Job Corps, which has enjoyed bipartisan support, was increased by $30 million in the Senate, yet cut by $9.8 million in the House.

Funding for Community Health Centers (currently funded at $1.7 billion) would grow by $100 million in the House bill and $105 million in the Senate bill. Funding for these local centers has grown considerably during the Bush administration. At the same time, the Healthy Community Access program would suffer a $23 million cut under the Senate bill (from its current level of $83 million) and would be eliminated under the House bill. Both the House and Senate cut the $723.9 billion Maternal and Child Health Block Grant – the House by $23.9 million and the Senate by $13.9 million. Ryan White AIDS programs would grow by $10 million (a 0.4 percent increase) in both the House and Senate bill.

The Mental Health Block Grant would be level-funded at $410.9 million in the House and Senate bills. Funding for Mental Health Programs of Regional and National Significance would remain at $274.3 million in the Senate; the House bill cuts those programs by $21 million. The Senate bill cuts Substance Abuse Treatment Programs by $10.2 million (- 0.4 percent); the House cuts those by $12.9 million

(- 0.6 percent). Substance Abuse Prevention Programs would grow under the Senate bill by $3.5 million while the House cuts them by $3.7 million.

Just one in six households eligible for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) gets help. Yet the House bill eliminates emergency funding for LIHEAP, trimming total LIHEAP by $175.6 million. The Senate provides a small increase in LIHEAP from its current level of $2.182 billion ($1.884 billion of regular funds plus $297.6 emergency funds) to $2.183 billion ($1.883 billion in regular funds plus $300 million in emergency funds.)

The discretionary portion of the Child Care and Development Block Grant would be level-funded once again at $2.082 billion under both the House and Senate bills. Somewhat surprisingly, Head Start fared better in the House, which provided $6.898 billion for next year (a $55.8 million increase). The Senate committee funded the program at $6.874 billion (a $31 million increase). To keep pace with inflation, Head Start would need an increase of about $190 million. At the levels contemplated under the House and Senate bill, 20,000 to 21,000 children could lose access to Head Start or Early Head Start, or programs could start laying off staff. The $35.7 million Early Learning Fund (which provides grants to communities to promote school-readiness) is eliminated in both the House and Senate bills.

Most child abuse programs were level-funded or near level-funded in both the House and Senate bills.

Both bills add $3 million for adoption opportunities; the House bill increases grants to states for child abuse discretionary activities by $5 million. The Senate would cut the discretionary portion of Promoting Safe and Stable Families (a child abuse prevention program) by nearly $9 million to just $90 million. The House would level-fund the program at $99 million. At one time the President promised to bring the discretionary portion of this program up to $200 million, but he has failed to push Congress to deliver on that promise. Training Vouchers for youth aging out of foster care are level-funded in the Senate but would grow by $3.3 million in the House.

The Senate would fund the Community Services Block Grant at the same level as last year – $636.7 million. In his budget, the President proposed slashing the Community Services Block Grant, and the House took up that suggestion by cutting funding nearly in half to $320 million.

Nutrition programs within the Administration on Aging (such as Meals-on-Wheels ) would get a $7.1 million boost under the House bill to $725.8 million. Funding would stay static under the Senate bill.

Title I (Education for the Disadvantaged) under the No Child Left Behind Act would rise by just $100 million under both bills (an increase of less than 1 percent), the smallest increase in years. If approved, next year’s level of $12.8 billion would be billions below the amount promised by President Bush when he signed the legislation. The $225 million Even Start family literacy program is eliminated entirely in the Senate committee bill; the House cuts it to $200 million. (The President recommended eliminating the program in his budget.) Four education programs would remain level-funded in both bills: Grants for Improving Teacher Quality would receive $1.481 billion, Reading First grants would receive $1.041 billion, Migrant Education would receive $34.2 million, and 21 st Century Community Learning Centers (after-school programs) would receive $991 million.

State grants for special education would rise to $11.565 billion in the House (a 1.3 percent increase) and $11.518 billion in the Senate (a 0.9 percent increase). Both the House and Senate would make some cuts to vocational education – a drop of $14.2 million in the House (- 1.0 percent) and $16.7 million in the Senate (- 1.2 percent). Adult education would stay at last year’s levels ($585.4 million) in both the House and Senate bills.

Next Steps

Under normal procedures, the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill would now go to the Senate floor for full debate and a vote. However, the Senate floor schedule will be jam-packed this fall, with a Supreme Court nomination, two reconciliation bills, the USA Patriot Act renewal and other must-pass legislation on the slate. The Labor-HHS-Education bill is one of the most contentious appropriations bills, and it is possible the Senate leadership, in order to save time, will wrap the bill up with other appropriations bills into a single “omnibus” bill. Unfortunately for advocates, omnibus bills often force lawmakers to make important spending decisions behind closed doors in the figurative (and sometimes literal) dark of the night.

For More Information

Senate Report 109-103: )

House Report 109-143: )

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