Last week both houses moved on an appropriations bill for the departments of HHS, Education and Labor.  The House Appropriations Committee moved the bill that had been approved by the Subcommittee a week earlier while in the Senate the Subcommittee and then the full Committee acted on their version of a bill on Tuesday and Thursday.  The House unnumbered bill and report was approved 30 to 21 on a party line vote.

The House bill avoided some of the controversial cuts of the recent past but not all.  It de-funds programs to carry out the Affordable Care Act and eliminates funding for Title X family planning, eliminates some 20 Department of education programs and reduces that department’s budget by $2.8 billion.  The Committee did find some funding increases for popular programs following the President’s budget request for an increase for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), added more for the National Institutes for Health (NIH) (an increase of $1.1 billion which is a $100 million more than the President’s budget), and added increases for substance abuse funding to $3.6 billion (although $21 million below the President’s budget). Much of that increase is intended to deal with the rising heroin and prescription drug abuse.

Within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) budget, Head Start receives a very small increase to $8.8 billion. That splits out a $192 million increase with $150 million for Early Head Start and the remaining $42 million for a cost-of-living adjustment. There is no increase in child care funding despite the fact that the new child care reauthorization law requires expanded eligibility and inspection requirements, provisions that are understood to cost more to implement.

In terms of child welfare spending all programs are flat funded.  This includes Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) state grants ($25.3 million), discretionary grants ($28.7 million), Child Welfare Services ($268 million), Promoting Safe and Stable Families ($59 million in discretionary) , Adoption Opportunities ($39 million) and the Adoption and Kinship Incentive funds ($37 million), Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention ($39.7 million) and Runaway and Homeless Youth $97 million)–all funded at the same as FY 2015.

In response to some early childhood education amendments offered by Committee Democrats and rejected by majority Republicans, Appropriations Chair, Congressman Tom Price (R-GA) indicated that he was open to re-visiting the funding if the budget caps were revised.

On the Senate side, overall spending was set at $153.2 billion which is $3.6 billion below current levels and approximately $14 billion below the Administration’s budget request.  It was approved on a 16-14 vote partisan vote. Also an unnumbered bill and report the legislation differs from the House bill in slight ways.  It too increases NIH funding but by a larger total of $2 billion.  It also, like the House increases funding to address opioid abuse by increasing substance abuse funding by $35 million.  Like the House they defund the ACA, they cut Education (-$1.7 billion) but they do increase IDEA part B and C by $125 million.  The Senate unlike the House does provide a modest increase for child care funding by $150 million which is envisioned as a start to help implement the expanded requirements under last year’s reauthorization.  The Senate provides a smaller increase for Head Start at $100 million.

In regard to child welfare programs funding is also flat but the Senate does offer a $2 million increase to funding a study of homeless youth through the Runaway and Homeless Youth program.

The more significant issue may have been efforts by the minority Democrats to call on congressional leadership to renegotiate the budget caps. A letter was spearheaded by the minority members to House leadership in an effort to highlight their differences.  On the Senate side Democrats have been opposing any floor movement of appropriations until the caps are renegotiated.

Congress is taking this week off for the July 4 break so the issue won’t be engaged until after they return.  They are scheduled to be in session for approximately a month after the July 4th break and then they hit their month-long August break through Labor Day. What it means for Labor HHS is that the two bills passed by the two houses will lay the groundwork for increased funding and for priorities by the two houses.

The President will oppose any effort to eliminate funding for the ACA and he will also reject Republican attempts to provide increases in defense spending by classifying increases as emergency spending.  He has supported an increase in defense spending but only if there is an equal increase in domestic spending. The biggest question that may loom over the summer months is, will members of Congress risk a government shutdown on October 1 if they cannot find a way to increase the current budget caps? The final answer to that question may not be known until after Labor Day.