Fact of the Week: Low-Income Programs Got Less Than Half the Average Increase of Other Non-Defense Programs in FY16


January 28, 2016

While the FY16 omnibus spending bill included funding beyond the harsh sequestration caps and included gains for some important human needs programs, programs serving low-income Americans overall fared considerably worse than others. According to new research by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, low-income discretionary programs (those funded by the annual appropriations process) received less than half the average increase given to other non-defense programs. CBPP also notes that if Congress gives low-income programs the same low priority in 2017 as in 2016, these critical programs could face cuts yet again.
low-income programs were given low priority in 2016

As you can see from CBPP’s chart above, the two subcommittee bills that cover the majority of appropriations for low-income programs – those that cover the Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services, and Education (L-HHS-Ed), and the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (THUD) – each received an increase of 3.6 percent for FY16 over their FY15 funding levels. The other nine non-defense subcommittees received an average increase of 6.9 percent. Further, when all low-income discretionary programs were taken into account, including those covered by other appropriations subcommittees, their increases averaged only about 3.0 percent – less than half the average for other non-defense funding.

As we’ve shown frequently on this blog, and have documented, funding for low-income programs remains far below the need. The increases in the omnibus were a step forward, but they did not go far enough. The CBPP paper mentions one example that we highlighted in our Human Needs Report – the need for more money for subsidized housing (only about one in four low-income families eligible for rental assistance receives it due to lack of funds). They also point out that funding for disadvantaged students is still 10 percent below its level six years ago, after adjusting for inflation.

An article from CQ called the Center’s new piece – along with a proposal by the Obama Administration to reduce childhood hunger (watch for a separate blog on that coming soon) and House Speaker Ryan’s recent poverty summit, a “Poverty Pushback.” While CHN and our coalition members always push back on poverty, there’s even more good reason for pushing back right now. The total spending for FY17 has already been set by the budget deal passed last October, and it’s effectively flat from FY16. With costs expected to rise for other non-defense programs like veterans’ medical care, and with certain housing-related revenues expected to fall, there’s a continuing threat to low-income programs.

There is a growing effort to seek bipartisan agreement on effective means of reducing poverty, including widespread acknowledgment that education, access to jobs, and the opportunity to live in a good neighborhood contribute mightily to poverty reduction. But we must hold members of Congress accountable: are they funding or cutting the programs that help?

As the next budget and appropriations cycle moves forward, we’ll be asking advocates to join with us in telling Congress to protect and expand funding for these programs, not cut these vital sources of support. We hope you’ll be there with us. Stay tuned for more ways you can act, but you can start by sharing this post on social media to spread the word about where programs for our low-income neighbors fall in priority for Congress. Then, leave your thoughts on human needs programs that need additional funding in the comments section below.

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Fact of the Week
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