After the House of Representatives narrowly passed HR 83 by a vote of 219 to 206 late on Thursday night December 11, the Senate acted late Saturday to approve the legislation (HR 83). The package represents one of the last acts by a Congress that has been rated by some critics as one of the least productive in many decades.
The omnibus appropriations bill provides funding for 11 of 12 appropriations bills through the rest of the fiscal year which ends on September 30 2015. Homeland Security will be the only bill not completed. It will receive funding through February so that the new Congress can attempt to stop the President’s Executive Order on immigration. The overall package follows the agreed to spending caps negotiated approximately one year ago. The negotiated agreement now expires and, as a result, puts back in place the across the board spending cuts unless the next Congress forms an alternative.
Overall child welfare funding was flat with a few reductions. The key funding sources, Title IV-E are entitlements (foster care, adoption assistance, subsidized guardianships) not at the mercy of the annual appropriations process. For those programs that are subject to appropriations, Child Welfare Services (Title IV-B part 1), a portion of Promoting Safe and Stable Families (Title IV-B part 2), the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), the Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention Act (CB-CAP), the Adoption Opportunities Act, the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and the Children’s Advocacy Centers are among several programs frozen at previous levels generally incorporating the recent across the board cuts from a few years earlier. One bit of good news was that the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-being (NSCAW) was continued but it came with cuts in the “innovation fund” which was an attempt to fund projects to reduce long term foster care.
Overall the budget set a new tone that reflects the power of the incoming new Republican majority. While Democrats negotiated the reduction of more than 90 policy riders, not without great controversy in both parties, the budget includes several items reflecting the priorities of the conservative majority on regulations, abortion and other items such as abstinence education. There were also numerous rejections or reductions in the Administration’s requests such as the pre-k initiative (which continues at the current $250 million without dramatic increases), a reduction in promise neighborhoods, and a rejection of the k through 12 “race to the top” funding. There was also no increase in Head Start and a small increase of $75 million for child care which may help to offset some of the new requirements recently adopted by Congress.
The debate was contentious as both Republicans and Democrats attacked the deal, so much so that an alliance between Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and the President was required to get just enough House votes for approval. The administration felt it was a better deal than the alternative which appeared to be a series of 3 month funding bills for all federal funding putting those decisions into the hands of the new Congress. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee defended the deal she was key to putting together arguing that many critics were unaware of what was protected or removed from earlier positions and negotiations. After looking like Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) might delay a final vote until later this week, he and others relented and allowed a vote late Saturday night.