Without any official announcement both the House of Representatives and Senate have begun the appropriation process despite not passing a budget resolution. A budget resolution would have streamlined some of the appropriations process and aligned what the Senate and House do as far as spending allocations between the twelve appropriations bills. Because of last year’s budget agreement, it is not required to set an overall spending target for the federal government.
Instead of a budget resolution, last week the two appropriations committees began to vote on appropriations and set their spending allocations between the twelve committees. These allocations, referred to as the 302(b)s, will spread little more than $1.07 trillion that was agreed to in last year’s two-year budget deal. The Senate allocation sticks to the deal with nearly half of that total ($515 billion) designated for the Defense Department. The House Appropriations will release its allocations next week. Both committees started to move bills. The full Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill for Military Construction and one for Energy and Water. The House Appropriations Subcommittees approved bills for Military Construction and for Agriculture with the intent to move them this week through the full committee.
The Senate allocation for the Subcommittee on Labor-Education and Health and Human Services (Labor-HHS) is set at $161 billion for the three departments, little change from this current year. In the February budget the Administration had requested a number of child welfare improvements, including the child welfare workforce, but much of those requests come in the form of increased entitlement and mandatory spending and would not come through this annual appropriations/discretionary spending.
In regard to key child welfare programs that are dependent on appropriations, the Administration requested very few increases. Programs that are part of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) authorization were all flat funded for 2017. State grants would remain at $25 million a year. Discretionary funding would receive an $11 million boost to $44 million but just as last year’s budget that increase would be designated for sex trafficking based on some provisions implemented through the 2014 Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (PL 113-183) including the creation of a commission to study the issue.
The Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention (CB-CAP) program would remain at $39.7 million. The Abandoned Infant program once funded at $11 million but zeroed out in the 2016 appropriations is eliminated. Last year the Administration had proposed reforms as part of a reauthorization but Congress used that as a rationale to eliminate funding altogether. The Adoption Opportunities Act remains at $39 million.
In other discretionary accounts the Administration does request $4 million, to continue the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW) study. The funding is appropriated under the Title IV-B part 1 program. The study provides information over many years on the outcomes and well-being of children and families who come into contact with child welfare. Last year it was funded through an allocation under CAPTA. The Adoption and Kinship Incentive Fund is flat funded at $37.9 million. Over the past several years funding for the incentives has fallen short of the amount needed to award all states what they are eligible for. As a result, HHS rewards states for the previous year to address the shortfall. Last year, despite the $37.9 million appropriations only $19 million was distributed to states for the FY 2015 incentives.
Among child care advocates there is a great deal of concern over a lack of funding increase. Now that Congress has passed a reauthorization (end of 2014) of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), the first time since 1996 there are new demands on CCDBG funding. That reauthorization included a number of improvements such as increased safety inspections, increased quality improvements and greater guarantees of continued child care subsidies and other alterations but all requirements draw from the same block grant funding. That means increasing quality, provider/workforce supports, expanded eligibility, uninterrupted subsidies due to work schedule changes all come from the same funding. Advocates calculate that it will take more than a $1 billion increase just to maintain current child care coverage while implementing the new law.
The Labor-HHS bill is likely to be taken up last if at all. Increasing funding for child care and child welfare will be in direct competition with education spending, higher education, Pell Grants, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and any other health and labor priorities.