A combination of higher budget caps tied to the defense budget and the increasing spread of opioid addiction combined into a final appropriation deal that resulted in some truly historic increases in children’s spending.
Leading the way was the single biggest increase in child care funding history at $2.3 billion with an additional $600 million in Head Start and Early Head Start. But beyond that were significant increases in a number of smaller child welfare programs that are normally left with frozen funding levels or across-the-board cuts. Leading that list is Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) state grants. The state grants increased from $25 million to $85 million. While that is small compared to other line items in the HHS budget it is more than a tripling of basic funding for a historic program that for years has been the target of both advocates and Congress alike for increased mandates without new funds. The new funds are intended to assist states in implementing plans of safe care for infants exposed to substances. The CAPTA increase is the first one since 2005 and begins to flag the 1974 program for more attention in the future.
Another victory for child welfare and the adoption community is a doubling of the adoption incentive fund to $75 million. The Adoption (and Kinship) incentive fund fell $50 million short of the total $55 million states had earned in last year’s awards. HHS can now take $50 million from these appropriations and make states whole and still have $25 million remaining for the new awards this September with the possibility of an additional fix when the FY 2019 is settled sometime at the end of this year.
Congress, with a push from authorizers, also started to provide some seed funding to help implement parts of the Families First Prevention Act by designating an additional $20 million for regional partnership grants (in addition to the base $20 million) and a new $20 million to advance Kinship Navigator programs that saw its federal $5 million in funds lapse in 2014.
So, what got into Congress? A combination of factors built up over time. The 2011 Budget Control Act had imposed ever-decreasing budget caps on spending for each of ten years. That original deal essentially between President Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and other Congressional leaders set those caps but divided spending between defense spending and non-defense spending. There was a general parity between the two categories that ultimately meant that if conservative members wanted significant increases in defense spending they would have to give more liberal members increases on the non-defense side. That was what happened in the February budget deal resulting in these increases for both 2018 and 2019. Another outside factor may have also been the spreading opioid epidemic. Much of the funding increases in the child welfare arena as well as many other parts of the human services budgets were driven by the urgency being felt by many members of Congress to address the increasing drug overdoses and drug-related deaths. Finally, another factor may have been that the February deal came only weeks after the tax package was signed into law, shattering the façade of any serious Congressional desire to balance the federal budget. Even factoring in any economic growth (by the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation), that legislation is expected to increase deficits by over a trillion dollars over ten years, and that anticipates some tax cuts expiring in five years.
In the end the President was not a strong factor. He complained about the bill after the fact but signed it even though he also announced he had not read it. He was successful in reducing funding to an important New Jersey-New York transportation-tunnel priority but he didn’t get the funding for the Mexico-U.S. wall. At the same time, he was able to keep out a fix for the DACA program. At least one of the offers he had made was to fund the wall and extend Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals with an expiration date shortly before the 2020 presidential elections. As a result, neither issue was resolved to the satisfaction of either side.
Another loss for Democrats and others was the inability to push a continuation of the ACA subsidies to shore up some health insurance premiums in the health care exchanges. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) had received commitments on a vote last year. In exchange for her support of the tax bill, she would get her vote on the subsidies. That does not look like it will happen considering House Republican opposition. Now Congress has left for the two-week spring break and dwindling time to legislate especially considering an increasing number of cabinet-level appointments and debates.
For a CWLA chart of spending go here.