Senate, House on Contrasting Paths for 2014 Spending; Funding for Low-Income Workers, Families at Stake
Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed its version of the bill to provide funding for the federal Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education for fiscal year 2014, which begins on October 1, 2013. These Departments are in charge of a huge range of programs and services, many of which serve low-income workers and families.
This bill would provide slightly higher overall funding levels than appropriated for FY 2013, allowing for targeted new investments. These include:
- Significant new investments in early learning and childcare, including $1.6 billion in additional funding for Head Start, primarily for Early Head Start-Child Care partnerships.
- $250 million for competitive grants under the Race to the Top—College Affordability and Completion fund. These grants would provide an incentive to States to adopt policy reforms designed to reduce costs for students and families and to improve postsecondary completion rates.
- An increase in the maximum Pell Grant to $5,785 for the FY14-15 academic year, supported by a surplus in funding for the program from previous years.
- Funding to support the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
- A modest investment of $5 million to support the start-up costs for states that wish to develop self-financing paid leave programs.
However, the House Appropriations Committee is headed down a very different path. It has not yet released a bill to assign funding levels to specific programs, but its budget for these Departments is significantly less – by $44 billion – and would necessitate reductions to key programs that help low-income families gain and maintain economic security. These budget proposals are simply not enough to meet the needs of the American public. Even at the Senate funding level, appropriators were forced to make tough choices, voting, for example, to reduce funding to promote college completion in order to provide additional support for education for children with disabilities. At the House funding levels, which slash domestic programs even deeper than required by the Budget Control Act, all domestic programs would need to absorb deep cuts. Many of the same families would be affected by multiple cuts – a single mother might lose access to domestic violence services, to nutrition assistance under WIC, and her child care subsidy.
Some have suggested that the muted public response to the cuts forced over the last several months by this year’s sequestration show that government spending could indeed be cut without great harm. This is a dangerous fallacy for multiple reasons:
- Sequestration is already causing real harm, especially to low-income individuals and families. People who have waited years for housing subsidies are having them pulled back, Head Start centers are cutting back, and domestic violence programs are reducing services. Nearly four million long-term unemployed workers are having their benefits cut by an average of 15 percent.
- For many education and job training programs, the full impact of last year’s cuts will not hit until this fall. For the 2012-2013 school year, school districts were largely operating with FY 2012 funds. The FY 2013 cuts will only take effect with the start of the 2013-2014 school year.
- Some programs did have reserves of unspent funds that they were able to use to buffer the FY 2013 cuts. But these reserves are now gone, leaving programs and their beneficiaries fully exposed to additional cuts.
Even the Senate Appropriations levels are not truly enough to both meet today’s needs and invest in the future. The overall spending targets for domestic discretionary spending adopted by the House would force cuts that will not only inflict hardship in the short term but also undermine our nation’s health and potential for years to come.