Congress Passes Bill to Fund Government — What Does it Mean for Children?
Since Congress struck a budget deal in mid-December, Congressional appropriators have been working to complete a spending package for the remainder of fiscal year 2014, and their omnibus legislation was released on Monday night. The House and Senate then passed the bill and President Obama is expected to sign it by Saturday’s deadline.
The $1.1 trillion bill fleshes out the December budget agreement and promises to restore some order to government funding over the next year. It will ease some of the cuts imposed by sequestration, while providing some money for new priorities.
The omnibus legislation gave some programs significant boosts in funding relative to recent austerity levels, while others remained the same or were cut further. However, in many cases, even the “winners” that received more money in this bill than they did after sequestration cuts were applied to FY 2013 funding levels received significantly less funding than they did in FY 2010 before austerity measures were applied. Overall, the new omnibus appropriations legislation takes some important steps in the right direction for children, but nothing of the scope or magnitude that is critical for the future of children and this nation.
Key elements of the omnibus for children and vulnerable families
- Head Start receives a $1.025 billion increase to restore funds cut by the sequester and allows for a cost of living increase. This funding includes $500 million for the expansion of Early Head Start, including the establishment of Early Head Start-Child Care partnerships.
- Provides $250 million in new funds for an expansion of pre-school programs. The bill would allow the Education Department and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to jointly administer a new competitive grant program through the end of the calendar year for states to develop or expand high-quality preschool programs for 4-year-olds from families at or below 200 percent of the poverty level (40 states and the District of Columbia already have some sort of state-funded pre-kindergarten program).
- Increases funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant by $36 million (for a total of $2.36 billion in FY 2014). The program provides grants to states to pay for child care subsidies for low-income families. According to Senator Tom Harkin, the increased funding will allow an additional 22,000 children to participate.
- Largely exempts most federal health programs from cuts, setting aside $156.8 billion for health programs. Among the health agencies and programs that would receive increases in the appropriations bill are the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to partially restore cuts to medical research, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), community health centers and mental health programs.
- Essentially freezes appropriations for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) at the reduced, post-sequester level. However, the administration does retain the flexibility to find the financing it needs to implement the health exchanges.
- Increases funding for mental health services and includes new mental health initiatives that the Obama administration proposed in the wake of the school tragedy in Newtown. In addition to boosting mental health programs at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration by $213 million and increasing the mental health block grant by $47 million, $115 million is allocated for programs in the President's “Now Is the Time” gun violence reduction plan. $15 million (of the $115 million) is set aside for mental health first-aid training to prepare teachers, police officers, emergency workers and others to identify signs of mental illness and connect individuals with services. The spending measure would also fund 20 grants for states to advance comprehensive programs in 1,000 to 1,500 schools so that students could get referred to needed mental health services.
- Includes several other provisions related to reducing gun violence, including: $60 million in additional funding for the background check system; and $75 million for a comprehensive school safety initiative to research root causes of school violence and pilot grants to test new technologies and strategies to enhance school safety.
- Partially restores cuts to job training programs.
- Gives all federal workers a 1 percent raise.
Budget battles for children are far from over. We expect the next fiscal debate to begin in February with required congressional action to extend the federal debt limit or risk the nation defaulting on our loans.
We are also eagerly awaiting President Obama’s FY 2015 budget, to be followed soon thereafter by budgets from the House and Senate. Unfortunately, the budget agreements to date establish the level of spending in years ahead: there will be a very small increase in FY 2015, and of course, significant sequester cuts are required each year through 2023 unless Congress takes action to lift them.
As Congress continues to debate spending priorities in the coming months, help ensure our nation’s future by investing in children: Tell your members of Congress to “Be Careful What You Cut!”
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