Child Health

House Fiscal Year 2021 Appropriations Bills Include Critical Priorities for Children & Families, But Much More is Needed

August 10, 2020 | National

In July, the House Appropriations Committee began and finished their full committee mark-ups to fund the government by September 30 for Fiscal Year 2021. The Committee sent 12 bills to the House Floor, where members voted on a series of “minibus” appropriations packages. The first minibus $2.59 billion appropriations package, on which the House voted on July 24, included critical funding for our nation’s food security, environment, international assistance programs, and more through the Agriculture, Interior-Environment, Military Construction-VA, and State and Foreign Operations (SFOPs) funding bills. On July 31, the House voted on a second $1.3 trillion minibus appropriations package to fund critical education, housing, and public health priorities through the Defense, Commerce, Justice, and Science, Energy and Water Development, Financial Services and General Government (FSG), Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHSE), and Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD) related bills. The House took a crucial legislative decision to mark-up and pass on the floor almost all of the 12 appropriations bills, even at a time when the Senate is at an impasse and has not released a single FY21 bill and the two chambers cannot come to an agreement on emergency spending for COVID-19 relief. 

FY21 Appropriations is insufficient but includes critical priorities. 

As noted in our previous post, the FY21 non-defense discretionary (NDD) topline, which includes funding for critical domestic priorities and is spread across multiple bills, is woefully insufficient to meet the growing needs of our communities during the pandemic and beyond. However, even given the tight budget constraints, House leaders fought back against the Trump administration’s dangerous budget proposals by increasing programmatic accounts where possible, providing emergency spending, and including many legislative checks on the administration. The House Appropriations bills include critical language that reflects priorities for children and families. That includes: 

  • Bill language blocking the administration from implementing the final proposed SNAP rule for Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWD) in the FY21 Agriculture Appropriations bill SEC 733. In December 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued its final rule limiting the ability of states to waive specific additional work requirements for ABAWDs participating in SNAP. Under current law, ABAWDs participating in SNAP who do not meet certain other work requirements are subject to a harsh three-month time limit in 36 months unless they meet additional work requirements of 80 hours per month. This rule would tighten those work requirements and strip states of the flexibility to waive them, making it harder for areas to qualify for a waiver, even during a future recession or in the regions that are eligible for extended unemployment benefits. The rule was supposed to take effect earlier this year, kicking nearly 700,000 people off SNAP in the first month alone and jeopardizing the lives of millions of children and families who rely on nutrition assistance. 
  • Bill language blocking the administration from implementing the SNAP Standardization of State Heating and Cooling Standard Utility Allowances (SUA) proposed rule in the FY21 Agriculture Appropriations bill SEC.734. In October 2019, the USDA proposed limiting states’ flexibility to set their own SUA based on local utility costs. The administration estimates nearly one-fifth of SNAP households would face a benefit cut, and thousands of households would lose access to SNAP altogether. The proposal is similar to a proposal in the administration’s budget that would cut SNAP benefits on net by $4.5 billion over five years. We know that standardizing the SUA will cause thousands of vulnerable families to go hungry and struggle to keep cool in the summer and warm in the winter. 
  • Bill language blocking the administration from implementing any changes to the Official Poverty Measure (OPM) in the FY21 Financial Services Appropriations bill SEC. 632. The proposal, published in the Federal Register on May 7, 2019, would direct the Census Bureau to use a lower, alternative measure, such as the “chained” Consumer Price Index or the Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index, to update the annual poverty thresholds, rather than continuing to use the traditional Consumer Price Index, referred to as the CPI-U. The proposed changes to the poverty thresholds would profoundly impact the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) basis to determine who can get help from Medicaid, SNAP, WIC, Head Start, and many other important federally funded basic living programs. This harmful proposal undermines basic assistance for millions of children and families facing economic insecurity by making the official poverty thresholds less accurate as a measure of the income of families.
  • Report language expressing concerns over high rates of child poverty in the FY21 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill page 37. The Committee expressed concern over the grave racial disparities in child poverty, focusing especially on the 7.5 million Black and Latino children living in poverty as of 2018. The Committee recognized that without strong support from Congress, millions more children are at risk of falling into or deeper into poverty. The Committee requested that the Department of Labor look for opportunities to target resources to communities with the highest child poverty rates to help reduce child poverty and racial disparities, especially in the context of COVID–19, and as the pandemic threatens to increase child poverty for years to come. 

Congress is likely to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) in the Fall. 

Even though the bills recently passed by the House include critical emergency funding and language priorities for children and families, this year, Congress will likely blow past the September 30 funding deadline and instead opt for a continuing resolution (CR). A CR provides budget authority to fund the government at the same funding levels from the prior years and does not allow departments to fund new projects. CRs are stopgap measures to ensure the government does not shut down operations but instead just “keeps the lights on.” They are dangerous, the wrong way to govern, and fail to meet changing needs in our communities. 

Even though a CR is likely, Congress must prioritize the needs of children and families throughout the appropriations mark-ups and beyond. Rather than investing in a militarized border, wasteful Pentagon spending, or tax breaks for the wealthiest corporations, we must invest in our children, families, and Black and Brown communities amid ongoing health and economic uncertainties. The measure of our moral and economic priorities should be how we uplift our children and increase prosperity for the millions of children who want to learn, grow, and succeed. 

Learn more about the basics of the appropriations process, FY2021 budget caps, options for increasing emergency spending, and policy riders in this recently published explainer by the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center and the Children’s Defense Fund.