FY 2019 is now complete with 25 percent of the budget agreed to by a combination of a Republican-run Senate and a Republican-run and Democratic-run House of Representatives spread over two congresses (See details below). The fractured process closes a book on the agreed to spending targets set for FY 2018 and FY 2019 and that pushes FY 2020 front and center and a key step will be what to set spending levels at for FY 2020.
The Administration is expected to release part one of their proposals on March 11 with a second part a week later. Congress will likely ignore the Trump budget and work their own will and budget caps. Still the Administration proposals will signal priorities and programs they seek to cut or increase. The budget resolution does not require an Administration sign off but the current caps are in law. Congress also has to deal with the debt ceiling at some point in March. Caps technically would not have to be revised until FY 2020 becomes finalized before October—it all leads to more potential confrontation with the White House.
As Congress starts to move more aggressively on FY 2020, there are some items not fixed in last week’s final deal. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was not extended in this bill but funding is still in place. Democrats were resistant to a more permanent extension since House Democrats seek to make expansions and improvements and a short extension was putting them at a negotiation disadvantage.
Congress will also have to address TANF in some way. TANF has lived on a combination of short-term budget extensions over the past decade but a separate bill from a few weeks ago extends it until the end of June.
Disaster relief is also on the table—especially for Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans are US citizens a fact many other U.S citizens forget and the U.S territory is still in dire need in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Much of their access to vital programs such as nutrition programs are fixed block grant funding. They are seeking an additional $600 million in nutrition assistance and while other states are still in need of disaster relief from a series of 2018 natural disasters, Republican leaders were not willing to go along with the Puerto Rico hurricane-related relief in this bill indicating that it should come up later.
Advocates are concerned because funding will run out by the end of March. If Congress does not provide $600 million to cover the next six months the impact will be felt throughout the island. For example, a family of four will see their assistance drop from $649 a month to $410, and 100,000 people will lose aid altogether. Altogether, 1.4 million people will be affected.
Several Republican senators have indicated support for action but it was not enough to get it included in this final deal so the pressure will be on in the coming days.