A deal to finalize FY19 spending and avoid another government shutdown took concrete form with the release of bill text on February 13. The outcome of negotiations among the 17-member conference committee who were tasked with writing a compromise version of the Homeland Security spending bill, it is expected to see floor votes on Thursday, February 14, first in the Senate and then in the House. The compromise legislation provides $49.4 billion for that department. The Homeland Security spending bill will be combined with the other six funding bills that haven’t yet been enacted for Fiscal Year 2019, including those covering the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, Justice, Commerce, and others, to create a $333 billion omnibus spending package. Of that total, $312.8 billion is for expenditures falling within the Non-Defense Discretionary cap, plus $8.2 billion in funds not subject to the cap for the Department of State, and another $12 billion in uncapped funding for FEMA for future disaster relief.
The House will waive the 72-hour period between release of legislation and a floor vote, since passage of this spending bill is deemed an emergency. If the votes occur as expected on Thursday and President Trump signs the legislation, they will have averted a new government shutdown. The current spending legislation expires at midnight on Friday, Feb. 15.
The Coalition on Human Needs joined more than 1,000 organizations in signing onto a letter to Congress and President Trump emphasizing the tens of thousands of low-income households put at risk during the recent shutdown and urging passage of FY19 spending bills with robust funding for affordable housing and community development programs. CHN and its members also pressed for the inclusion in the package of increased food aid for Puerto Ricans as part of a disaster relief package initially expected to be included with the full-year spending bill. Despite the urgent need to prevent Puerto Rico’s Nutrition Assistance Program from running out of funds, the spending bill did not include any disaster relief (see related article in this Human Needs Report for more on this).
Homeland Security Provisions: The bill will provide $1.375 billion for 55 miles of border fencing, far less than the President’s request of $5.7 billion. However, President Trump has claimed that he can shift funding away from other accounts to get the amount of construction he wants, providing a source of ongoing controversy. The other major point of contention is the number of detention beds for arrested immigrants. The average daily population of immigrants in detention in FY 2018 was set by Congress at 40,500, scheduled in the agreement to rise to 45,057 in FY 2019, a 12 percent increase. However, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has ignored Congress’ restrictions and currently is detaining more than 49,000 immigrants. If ICE starts to abide by the limits set in the anticipated bill, there will be a reduction in jailed immigrants by the end of FY 2019. Since ICE has been flouting Congress’ dictates for a number of years, it is not at all certain that the reduction in detention beds will actually occur. More than half of the members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus sent a letter to the Homeland Security conference committee on Feb. 6 urging them not to provide any more money for immigrant detention or a border wall.
There are a number of provisions in the DHS text that offer protections for immigrants and/or require more public disclosure of DHS actions. The negotiators included $192.7 million in increased funding to improve the treatment of migrants in short-term Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) custody, of which $128 million is for increased funding for contracted medical professionals, $40.2 million is for increased food, infant formula, diapers or related items for detainees, and $24.5 million is for increased transportation between CBP facilities.
In language providing additional protections, the agreement prohibits the use of restraints on migrant pregnant women in custody and specifies that no funds shall be used to block Members of Congress from inspecting DHS facilities, including those detaining families, or to destroy any records related to sexual assault or abuse of anyone in DHS custody. In order to encourage family members to come forward to sponsor unaccompanied children so that they can be released into the community, there is language prohibiting funding to detain or remove any sponsor or potential sponsor or household member based on information provided by HHS. HHS investigates potential sponsors before releasing children to their custody. In the past, HHS did not share any of its information with DHS, but that changed with the Trump Administration. In addition, there are new reporting requirements, such as monthly public reports on family separations, both new and ongoing, and a required report by the DHS Office of the Inspector General within 90 days on previous family separation policies. Unannounced inspections of DHS sites are newly required to pay “particular attention” to the health needs of detainees. In the past, inspections of detention facilities have been criticized as ineffective in uncovering abuses.
Other key components/omissions in the omnibus package for the human needs community:
- The final bill failed to prevent automatic cuts of about $1 billion to Medicare and other benefits programs that could be triggered by spending levels that exceed caps under the statutory pay-as-you-go rule. Congress has regularly waived these automatic cuts, and it will be surprising if it does not do so through separate legislation.
- The bill did not reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, but did provide full-year funding for its programs at $497.5 million. Democrats are seeking to make certain improvements in the legislation authorizing VAWA, and did not wish to reauthorize using current language.
- While TANF was previously reauthorized through June 30, 2019, no further extension was provided, requiring further action before the September 30 end of the fiscal year.
- Federal employees received a 1.9 percent pay raise, superseding a Trump decision to have no general pay increase.
- There was no provision to cover pay for workers in companies with federal contracts who could not work during the 35-day government shutdown.
- A 4 percent increase in funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development over FY18 levels, to $44.2 billion. The Tenant-Based Rental Assistance program is funded at $20.3 billion, adequate to renew all existing vouchers. Housing Programs (public housing developments) are funded at $12.7 billion, an increase of $173 million above the FY18 enacted level and $726 million above the President’s budget request. The National Low Income Housing Coalition has more details. The Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes is funded at $279 million, an increase of $49 million above the FY18 enacted level and $134 million above the President’s budget request.
- $6.1 billion in FY19 funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), a decrease of $100 million from FY18 levels and $325 million above President Trump’s request. Full FY19 funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/food stamps) and Child Nutrition Programs is also included.
- A small increase of $25 million for the Environmental Protection Agency over FY18 levels, to $8.8 billion. The package contains some contentious policy changes, known as riders, that advocates oppose, while eliminating others that were contained in the version of the bill that previously passed the House.
- A total of $3.8 billion, an increase of more than $1 billion above FY18 and $20.9 million above the President’s budget request, to enable the Census Bureau to prepare for the 2020 Decennial Census.
- $415 million for the Legal Services Corporation, which is $5 million above the FY18 enacted level. The President had proposed completely eliminating this program, which helps provide legal assistance to underserved communities.
A summary of the omnibus by division from the House Appropriations Committee Majority Staff is available here For more information on the effects of the government shutdown, see CHN’s Trump Shutdown Resources page as well as our blog, Voices for Human Needs.