Stop-Gap Continuing Resolution Passes Congress
Last Wednesday night—with about 50 hours to go until the start of federal Fiscal Year 2017 (FY17) and members of Congress eager to return home to campaign—the U.S. House and Senate passed a “Continuing Resolution” (CR) that will keep the federal government funded until December 9, 2016.
After negotiations, Republicans and Democrats reached a compromise that, among other things, includes $1.1 billion to combat the Zika virus and $500 million for natural disaster relief, notably in flood-stricken Louisiana. Congress also reached a bipartisan agreement to reconcile the difference between the House and Senate on the amount of federal aid for the urgently needed and long-overdue replacement of lead water pipe lines in Flint, Michigan, where many people still cannot safely drink, bathe, or cook using tap water. However, the final legislation to help Flint was not included in the CR and will have to wait until Congress returns after the election. The CR also temporarily continues mandatory programs that needed extensions, such as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
While this stop-gap measure will keep the government running until after the general election, the CR leaves considerable unfinished business because it fails fundamentally to meet the resource needs of programs that support low-income families. By temporarily continuing the inadequate funding levels in the FY16 budget for all annually appropriated federal programs, Congress did very little to address the needs of the 13.5 percent of Americans who live in poverty, according to the latest Census report on poverty.
As the nation looks ahead to a new president and Congressional leaders plan for 2017 and beyond, policymakers must fully fund effective investments in education, employment, young children, and anti-poverty strategies that ensure all benefit from the economic recovery. After the election, Congress will enter a “lame duck session” in which some members who will not be returning in January may feel unencumbered by future elections. The consequences are grim if Congress fails in the lame duck to sharply raise funding levels as it deliberates over the FY17 budget. For example:
- Holding child care funding at its current levels means that fewer children will receive the stable and healthy child care they need to thrive and their parents need to succeed on the job. Recent data show that participation in child care funded through the Child Care and Development Block Grant program has fallen to a 16-year low, with just 1.4 million children being served in 2014, and spending at an 11-year low as of 2013.
- Fewer workers will receive the skills training and postsecondary credentials they need to move toward better jobs, since this year’s funding level for adult education is more than 6 percent below the FY 2017 amounts authorized in 2014’s bipartisan reauthorization of the federal workforce development law. Moreover, current funding for key adult and youth employment and training is more than 3 percent lower than levels authorized for next year by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). This would continue a decline in funding for these programs of more than 30 percent in real terms over the past 15 years.
- Communities of color have been hit especially hard by federal disinvestment in key programs such as child care, workforce training, and Head Start. Youth of color, particularly out of school youth, simply don’t have the resources they need to succeed, and young children cannot get the start they need and deserve without help. With children of color soon to be half of all children—and already half of children under five—their success matters deeply to America’s future.
We can drive down the damaging prevalence of poverty and economic insecurity if the next president and Congressional leaders make a strong commitment to addressing poverty. Such a commitment should start with the enactment of an FY2017 budget that expands and invests in the crucial education, child care, safety net, and workforce development programs that help people get and keep a job, stabilize families, and promote success. In addition, the commitment must focus resources and attention on those who face the most barriers—children, youth, and families of color, immigrant families, and those whose opportunities are limited by pervasive poverty in their neighborhoods and communities.
CLASP urges Congress to pass a 2017 spending bill with additional resources to support low-income families as they seek economic security.