Senate Appropriations Committee’s Labor/H Budget Puts Arbitrary Caps Ahead of Low-Income Families

In June 2015, on a party-line vote, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee passed a bill to provide funding for discretionary programs in the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (the Labor/H budget) for FY 2016. The Senate majority bill, much like House bill, proposes wholly inadequate support for programs and services that help low-income people. Because it keys all the programs to an arbitrary cap, small increases in a few programs force sharp cuts in others.  This stands in contrast to President Obama’s budget, which accommodates priority increases without savagely curtailing other investments in children and families.  The president has vowed to veto any appropriations bill that does not lift the sequester caps, making it very unlikely that this bill will move forward.

The annual appropriations bill funds education, workforce, child care, Head Start, and other programs that serve low-income families.  With the recent reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CDDBG) and enactment of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the nation has a historic opportunity to help low-income people climb the ladder economically. Unfortunately, both the Senate and House bills squander this momentum, with some programs deeply cut and others remaining at levels that fall far short of meeting need.

The budget’s spending levels are based on sequester caps; as a result, even the most modest increases require offsets in other areas. For instance, while the budget includes a small increase in CCDBG funding, the investment is not enough to implement reforms in the reauthorization and forces deep cuts to other programs, including workforce development and adult education. The proposed budget cuts federal funding for core training, youth, and adult education titles of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act by more than $100 million, even though the program has been reduced by 40 percent since 2000 and reaches just a fraction of those eligible.  For example, in 2013, the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Title II Adult Basic Education and Literacy program reached just 1.7 million—less than 5 percent—of the nation’s 36 million adults with the lowest literacy levels.

In total, the Senate’s Labor/H budget includes $153.2 billion in discretionary funding—a $3.6 billion reduction from FY 2015 and $14.5 billion below President Obama’s budget request.  Below is a breakdown of the Senate Labor/H budget for key programs that help low-income people:

  • Student Financial Assistance (including Pell Grants, Work Study, and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG)): Decrease of $69 million to $24.129 billion.  This includes a $40 million cut to Work-Study and $29 million cut to SEOG.  In 2016, the cuts would affect an estimated 1.6 million recipients of SEOG and 703,000 of Work-Study.
  • Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Title I Adult and Youth: Decrease of $40 million to $737 million for Title I Adult, as well as a decrease of $41 million to $791 million for Title I Youth.  This is roughly 11 percent and 10 percent, respectively, below the levels Congress authorized in last year’s workforce reauthorization.
  • WIOA Title II Adult Education and Family Literacy: Decrease of $35 million—more than 14 percent below the levels Congress authorized in last year’s workforce reauthorization.
  • Child Care Access Means Parents In School (CCAMPIS) and First in the World Grants: Eliminates funding for both programs—a reduction of $75 million.
  • Child Care Development Block Grant: Increase of $150 million to $2.585 billion.  While this modest increase will help states implement the provisions in the latest child care reauthorization, funding is still drastically below where it needs to be.  In 2013, the most recent year for which data are available, overall federal and state spending for child care and participation in the program was at historically low levels.
  • Head Start: Increase of $100million to $8.698 billion.  The increase is to expand Early Head Start, including through Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships.  However, this increase does not include a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), let alone full-day or full-year programs.  If the COLA were to be made up by reducing enrollment, more than 12,000 children would be cut from the program.
  • Preschool Development Grants: Eliminates funding.
  • Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA): Increase of $150 million to $14.56 billion.
  • Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) Grants to States: Increase of $100 million to $11.598 billion.

The Senate and House bills differ slightly in which services are hit hardest, but both severely reduce overall investment.  With President Obama promising to veto any appropriations bill that does not lift the sequester cuts, a Continuing Resolution may be needed to fund programs for FY 2016, which begins on October 1. CLASP urges Congress and the president to lift funding caps, so that significant investments can be made in programs that help low-income families.

Click here to read CLASP Executive Director Olivia Golden’s congressional testimony on the importance of public programs that help low-income people.