The Urgent Need to Invest, Not Cut: Cuts in Two-Thirds of Human Needs Programs Must Be Reversed, Not Worsened


May 10, 2023

Human needs programs have lost ground for more than a decade, and the high inflation rates of the past two years have continued this harm. In the 178 programs tracked annually by the Coalition on Human Needs, 123 (more than two-thirds, or 69 percent) saw cuts from FY 2010 through FY 2023, adjusted for inflation. More than two-fifths (74 programs; 42 percent) lost 20 percent or more over this period. These losses were caused by a decade of capped spending. While some welcome progress was made after the cap was lifted, in Fiscal Years 2022 and 2023, this has not erased long-term losses for far too many critical programs. Find the detailed tables here.

The programs CHN tracks are of special importance to people with low incomes. They serve vulnerable groups such as people with disabilities and immigrants. Services listed here reach every age group, from babies to the aging; they are of disproportionate importance to communities of color. They protect women and LGBTQ people from harm. But they don’t serve all those who need help, because funding does not stretch far enough.

Despite the need for more progress, a House-passed bill (H.R. 2811) would make drastic cuts and impose an extreme cap as the price of raising the limit on borrowing. The bill would cut spending on domestic and international appropriations by about 22 to 30 percent in FY24, depending on how much the Pentagon and veterans’ services are protected. This would be a giant step backward for key anti-hunger, health, housing, early childhood, and other programs. Even worse, the House bill’s cap is so extreme that after a decade, domestic/international spending will have declined by nearly 60 percent. Congress should be responding to unmet need, not threatening reckless cuts.

Across all domestic and international (non-defense) programs, spending declined by 2 percent from FY 2010 – FY 2023, taking inflation and population growth into account, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. But setting aside the rapidly growing veterans’ medical care expenditures, the rest of these programs declined fully 10 percent.

However, the losses for many of the programs of special importance to people with low incomes are far deeper. Adult and youth job training programs are down more than 25 percent, taking inflation but not population growth into account. Community Service Employment for Older Americans has declined 65 percent. Serious levels of mental health problems among children have spiked, but Children’s Mental Health funding has dropped 23 percent since FY 2010. Education funds for our most vulnerable children, youth and adults have declined: special education grants for infants and families cut 12 percent; neglected and delinquent youth and migrant student education down more than 30 percent; and career and vocational education cut 18 percent. Juvenile justice programs have been slashed 30 percent. Despite a significant erosion in our affordable housing stock, public housing operating funds have declined by over 23 percent since FY 2010.

Proposals to cut spending down to FY 2022 levels, targeted solely at domestic and international appropriations, would have devastating consequences. A 22 percent cut in FY24 would mean 200,000 fewer children in Head Start, over 100,000 children losing affordable child care, 640,000 fewer households with rental housing vouchers, and 400,000 older adults denied the meals they need. The programs listed here must receive funding increases in FY 2024, not be further harmed by additional extreme cuts.

Budget and Appropriations