Progress from Congress on Appropriations
September 12, 2018
This summer, Congress made extraordinary progress toward completing the requisite 12 spending measures for upcoming fiscal year (FY) 2019. To date, the Senate has passed nine spending bills, while the House has passed six. Lawmakers have until September 30 to finalize spending bills or extend funding at current levels through a continuing resolution (CR). Efforts are underway to bundle nine* out of 12 spending measures into three packages by September 30 and put the remaining three** bills into a CR, averting a government shutdown.
One reason for the Senate’s remarkable pace on appropriations is President Trump’s vow to not sign another omnibus spending bill. To achieve this progress, the Senate uncharacteristically spent part of August in session. Another reason is a bipartisan agreement between Appropriations committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) not to pack spending bills with controversial provisions that would weaken bipartisan support.
NETWORK continues to lead lobby efforts supporting our Mend the Gap priorities. These include: humane border enforcement that promotes family unity and funding increases for affordable housing, workforce development, job training, child welfare and health care. In addition, NETWORK will continue to oppose efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act.
Unsurprisingly, the Trump Administration’s “Zero Tolerance” immigration policy dominated the appropriations debate and faced strong opposition across party lines in both chambers. NETWORK joined pro-immigration advocates in garnering support for more than 12 amendments to the Homeland Security bill that adds report language that clamps down on family separation with better oversight and accountability standards for ICE detention centers. Additionally, we successfully lobbied for more funding to support alternatives to detention, family case management services, and mental health screening of unaccompanied minor children crossing the Southern border. However, a major disappointment by House Appropriators includes the reversal of the Flores Settlement, a 1997 agreement drafted by the ACLU which set a 20-day limit for family detention and governs the conditions of detention for children, including that facilities be safe, sanitary, and age appropriate. If enacted this would allow immigrant families to be indefinitely detained in facilities with harsh conditions not supported by Flores. Thankfully, the Senate approved LHHSED Appropriations bill leaves the Flores settlement agreement intact and the House language is not likely to be part of the final bill.
As for immigration enforcement spending contained in the Homeland Security Appropriations bill, the House Appropriations Committee approved $7 billion more than the Senate for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and the Southwest Border Wall. Other areas of concern include, a 10 percent increase in detention beds, as well as funding to hire almost 800 more border and customs agents/officers.
NETWORK will continue to push back on efforts to separate families or that would undermine humane border enforcement as negotiations gain momentum post the mid-term elections.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
The current Farm Bill is set to expire on September 30, unless Congress passes the next Farm Bill before then or extends the current reauthorization. Regardless of when Congress finalizes the next Farm Bill, funding for SNAP will not lapse as the government is statutorily required to continue funding the program subject to participation demands. Since 2015, SNAP enrollment has declined by more than 4.7 million people resulting in a $73 billion automatic appropriation for FY 2019. This is $794 million less than FY 2018 and a 10 percent reduction since FY 2015.
House appropriators gave a big boost to the Census Bureau in the FY 2019 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations (CJS) bill, approving nearly $1 billion more for the agency than the Senate. However, it is unclear how much of the $4.8 billion for the agency will be allocated for the 2020 Decennial. Conversely, the Senate appropriators (under new leadership) appears to have taken a more conservative approach and adopted the President’s FY 2019 budget request to fund the 2020 Decennial at $3.015 billion. This is drastically different from NETWORK’s request of $3.928 billion minimum baseline.
Besides census activities, the CJS bill also funds immigration related law enforcement and adjudication efforts within the Department of Justice. Regrettably, the House Committee bill, fails to fully protect immigrant families and includes increased funding for immigrant-related law enforcement efforts. Congress is not expected to finalize the CJS bill until sometime after the mid-term elections. NETWORK will continue to call on our supporters to push for the higher number for the 2020 Census contained in the House bill.
Funding for housing programs fared better in the Senate. The Senate approved a $12 billion increase above the President’s FY 2019 budget request−and is $1 billion above the House bill. Housing programs help nearly 5 million vulnerable families and individuals. This includes: $22.8 billion for tenant-based Section 8 vouchers; $7.5 billion for public housing; $11.7 billion for project-based Section 8; $678 million for Housing for the Elderly; and $154 million for Housing for Persons with Disabilities. Both committee bills reject the Administration’s rent reform proposal, and reinstate funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME Investment Partnerships programs, which were eliminated in the President’s FY 2019 budget request. However, the House reduces spending for the HOME program by 12 percent.
NETWORK will continue to advocate for increased funding for affordable housing programs.
Children and Human Needs
The LHHSEd Appropriations bill funds popular safety net programs, like Medicare and Medicaid operations, home energy assistance, Head Start and the Child Care Development Block Grant. It is the 2nd largest spending bill, after defense and comprises about 63 percent of total discretionary spending. The House and Senate bills are slightly different—overall the Senate bill is better because it has a higher spending allocation and contains no poison pill riders unlike the House.
Unfortunately, the Affordable Care Act continues to be attacked by Republican lawmakers. Both the House and Senate bills reduce access to affordable health care by cutting funding for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) operating budget by nearly half a billion dollars. According to the House Committee report, Democrats view defunding CMS as “a misguided attempt to sabotage the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace.” If enacted this cut would significantly impact Medicare as it subject to mandatory 2 percent sequestration cut pursuant to the Balance Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-25).
NETWORK will continue to call on our supporters to push back against efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act.
* Agriculture; Defense; Energy and Water; Financial Services; Interior; Labor-Health and Human Services-Education; Legislative Branch; Military Construction and Veterans Affairs; Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.
**Commerce, Justice, Science; Foreign Operations; and Homeland Security.