Human needs advocates largely welcome compromise spending measure; cuts to nutrition assistance, housing mostly averted 


March 4, 2024

Many human needs advocates are breathing sighs of relief this week as Congressional leaders in both chambers and in both political parties released compromise text for six spending bills that must pass by Friday, March 8 to avoid a partial government shutdown. 

The compromise contained mostly good news, sprinkled with some bad. For months, members of the House Freedom Caucus and other House right-wingers threatened dire cuts to human needs programs including nutrition assistance and housing, along with harmful policy changes. 

Particularly significant was a $1 billion increase in funding for the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition assistance program, which will allow the program to avoid a once-in-a-generation crisis of placing some WIC recipients on waiting lists or turning them away altogether. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated that 2 million parents and young children could have been turned away from WIC by September without that crucial funding boost. 

“The final package includes critical resources to address WIC’s budget shortfall, helping to avert a potential disruption of services and prevent long waiting lists that would have left more women, infants, and young children hungry and unable to access the essential WIC services they rely on,” the Food Research & Action Center said in a statement 

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash), Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a long-time advocate for nutrition assistance programs, highlighted the importance of WIC funding. 

“I said I would move mountains to fully fund WIC and that’s exactly what I did,” she said. “I’m glad that the millions of moms and babies who rely on this program won’t have to suffer the stress and harm of losing access to the lifesaving nutritional support.” Many CHN members and allies worked tirelessly to continue the longstanding bipartisan tradition of fully funding WIC – and fought attacks against other nutrition programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). 

Also of note was a modest bump in funding for rental housing programs – not enough to meet the nation’s overwhelming shortage of housing assistance and affordable housing, but critical to continue current rental assistance vouchers at a time when increased housing costs threaten the ability of many to stay in their homes. The package includes new vouchers for an estimated 3,000 households, targeted to veterans experiencing homelessness and youth aging out of foster care, along with a big increase in Homelessness Assistance. 

The good news in the spending bills was tempered by some bad. Of particular disappointment was the compromise’s failure to adequately fund Census Bureau surveys and preparations for the decennial census. Although the Census Project, an advocacy group, had recommended funding of $2 billion and the Biden Administration proposed $1.6 billion, the final number was $1.382, barely above what House Republicans initially proposed. CHN is relieved that the final package did not include attacks on the Census opposed by allies in the civil rights community and beyond, but disappointed given the importance of investing in early planning for the 2030 census and improvements in data quality. Accurate Census data ensure that federal funds for important human needs programs are allocated fairly across states, including child care, WIC, Title 1 funds for low income schools, IDEA funding for special education, housing, and home heating and cooling aid (LIHEAP), among others. 

The spending bills released Sunday were notable not just for the funding they included for nutrition assistance and housing, but for what they did not include – most so-called “poison pill riders” that had been threatened by House conservatives. Poison pill riders remain a threat in the six spending measures scheduled to be taken up in mid-March; among those that were shelved in the initial tranche of bills were measures that would have harmed people of color facing housing discrimination and illegally excluded non-citizens from being included in decadal Census and other counts. CHN was one of nearly 200 groups that sent a letter to Congress opposing the riders. 

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn), Ranking Member on the House Appropriations Committee, said she is “grateful that each of these bills rejects many of the extreme cuts and policies proposed by House Republicans and protects the great strides we made over the last two years to reverse the underinvestment in domestic programs that Americans depend on,” according to the Washington Post. “I urge swift passage of this package and look forward to releasing the remaining 2024 funding bills.” 

A House vote on the first package of the six appropriations bills unveiled yesterday may come as soon as Wednesday with Senate action later this week, with the remaining six spending bills taken up in mid-March. The initial six bills include funding for the Departments of Transportation, Veterans Affairs, Energy, Agriculture, Interior, and Housing and Urban Development, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration. The final six bills would need to be approved by Friday, March 22 in order to avoid any government shutdown. 

CHN and our network continue to urge Congress to quickly pass bipartisan full-year spending bills that adequately invest in human needs while rejecting efforts to include harmful cuts or policy riders in these bills, and we continue to update materials to support state and local advocates to share why funding is important for their communities. 

affordable housing
Budget and Appropriations
nutrition assistance