Before leaving for the Martin Luther King holiday, Congress completed action on an omnibus bill, HR 3547, which provides funding for each of the 12 appropriations bills. The two chairs of the appropriations committees, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Congressman Hal Rodgers (R-KY) worked over the previous weekend to complete writing the most controversial parts of the bills (including Labor-HHS-Education) to make sure all bills had specific funding directed by the appropriators. This is the first time they have not resorted to an across-the-board continuing resolution since FY 2010.
While there were some relative “winners” such as Head Start and pre-kindergarten, even those increases are far from what would have been envisioned last year (pre-K) or several years ago (Head Start and Child Care). Most of the child welfare programs continued to experience erosion in funding both through discretionary cuts and mandatory spending cuts. The budget agreement had replaced the sequestration with a series of other cuts but there were a few mandatory programs (programs that have their funding level written into law) that were not removed from those sequestration cuts. In regard to child welfare this includes block grants such as the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG), Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) and the home visiting program. As a result they will continue to be reduced from their base totals by 5.1 percent per year for the two years of this budget agreement.
Although there were no clear winners on the domestic side it would have been $20 billion worse if the budget deal had not been struck last December. The appropriations bill actually received overwhelming bipartisan support, a rarity in the past few years but no one was entirely happy. The $1.1 billion measure was adopted by the House on a margin of 359 to 67 and later in the week passed the Senate by a vote of 72 to 26. In regard to the funding for the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education bill, the $156 billion is higher than the total of $144 billion that was provided in FY 2008 but when that 2008 figure is adjusted by inflation it is actually $162 billion in today’s dollars and means that the three departments are getting less funding than they were 6 years ago.
The budget agreement also set spending levels for the upcoming debate on FY 2015 appropriations. The overall funding will be only slightly higher. On the other hand, since the appropriations committees will begin the appropriations debate with a common spending level between the two houses it should allow a more planned and regular deliberation as each of the twelve committees should be allowed to have their own debates, votes and debate on the House and Senate Floors. The President’s budget which normally comes out after the state of the Union in the first week of February is expected to be late in light of the fact that the final budget numbers were not finalized until this past week.
John Sciamanna, Consultant, National Policy, Children’s Issues, 410-956-6490