No Ifs, Ands, or Buts, Congress Must Pass a Clean, Full-Year Funding Bill

Update: Short-term continuing resolution extends deadline for full-year Omnibus to December 16.

Earlier this fall, Congress passed and President Obama signed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, laying out a framework for federal spending over this fiscal year and next. As we wrote then and since, by increasing the overall caps on federal spending in fiscal years (FY) 2016 and 2017, this agreement offered the prospect of modest but desperately needed funding boosts for vital programs that help poor and low-income people lift themselves to economic security.

Congress must now make that promise a reality by passing a clean omnibus spending bill, free of “poison pill” ideological riders, and allocating a fair share of this year’s funding increases to investments in vulnerable, poor families who have been hit hardest by the extreme cuts in previous years. Using the threat of a government shutdown to force through policy changes that would otherwise have no chance of passing—such as restrictions on refugees—is unacceptable, and President Obama has already stated he would veto a bill including such riders. But it would be equally unacceptable if a spending bill held funding for the vital Labor-Health and Human Services (HHS)-Education segment of the federal budget at the inadequate levels of FY 2015. Investments that benefit low-income people must receive a fair share of the funding increase provided by the budget deal.

Since the enactment of the Budget Control Act of 2011, funding for vital programs has declined sharply. This has been a slow motion disaster. For example, the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) is reaching the smallest number of children in 15 years. Similarly, severe cuts to workforce, education, and training programs have hurt businesses and workers, especially young adults and the chronically unemployed, and threaten our economic competiveness.  These cuts are particularly damaging because today nearly one in five children and young adults live in poverty in the United States and millions more live in families struggling to make ends meet.

Compounding the damage, these cuts have forced the nation to miss out on major opportunities, such as last year’s Congressional reauthorizations of both workforce development programs and child care assistance, both of which passed by large bipartisan majorities. Yet without significant additional investment, the important improvements made by these laws will be largely empty promises.

Therefore, the allocations and individual program funding levels in the omnibus FY 2016 appropriations bill must invest in programs that will serve to repair large funding gaps in the safety net. In particular, the Labor-HHS-Education section of the omnibus bill must provide sufficient resources to address the damaging effects of low-wage work, to help low-skilled youth and adults move up to better jobs, to invest in young children, and to support a two-generational approach so both parents and children can escape poverty. 

We recommend that Labor-HHS-Education allocations provide:

  • Increased funding for CCDBG to help raise the number of children served to begin to reverse the negative trend, enable parents to work and children to have stable, quality child care settings, and help states implement costly provisions in the 2014 CCDBG Reauthorization;
  • Increased funding for Head Start to enable programs to begin to expand access to full-school-day, full-school-year services, which research demonstrates is a critical element of ensuring quality, and for Early Head Start and Early Head Start-Child Care partnerships, which help child care providers meet Early Head Start’s higher-quality standards;
  • Full funding for all Titles in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) at statutorily authorized FY 2016 levels, so states and local areas and other partners in the public workforce system can fully realize the bipartisan vision outlined by WIOA; train the next generation of workers so they can become productive citizens, achieve their career goals, and contribute to their local community; and ensure that the 36 million Americans with low basic skills are able to strengthen their educational levels in order to take advantage of emerging economic opportunities;
  • Restored funding for the Perkins basic state grant program to pre-sequester levels to support our nation’s high schools, technical centers, and community colleges in developing the highly skilled workforce demanded by employers;
  • Full funding for Pell Grants—the foundational student aid program that is critical to higher education access for low-income students—as well as Work-Study and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG), which provide important need-based aid in a time when the average unmet financial need for the lowest-income students is over $10,000; and
  • Full funding for enforcement of wage and hour laws by the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, including work leave and at least the $35 million the President requested for the State Paid Leave Fund, which would help design programs to assist working families, children and seniors when work leave is needed for a serious illness or the birth/adoption of a child.

We consider each of these issue areas of crucial importance across an individual’s life cycle and would discourage trade-offs that would seek to leverage cuts in one area to strengthen another.  

In addition, as “tax extenders” are likely to be considered as part of the budget deal, it is critical that they include provisions that will make permanent the improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC), and ensure that all low-income workers and families remain eligible for the credits. The EITC and CTC are critical supports for low-wage earners and families living in poverty. Both have been shown to significantly reduce poverty. In 2014, the EITC and CTC lifted nearly 10 million people out of poverty, including more than 5 million children. In addition to being critical poverty reduction programs, the EITC and CTC have been shown to promote work and support children’s development. Improvements were made to the EITC in 2009 to reach more low-income workers and their families. Without an extension, these improvements will expire in 2017, causing more than 16 million people in working families, including 8 million children to fall into—or deeper into—poverty. This is a critical time and opportunity to ensure these improvements to the EITC and CTC are made permanent.  Congress should not extend tax credits that benefit businesses without also helping hard-working families.

Congress should do its job on the 2016 budget and live up to the bipartisan spending agreement:  it should provide increased FY 2016 funding for key Labor-HHS-Education investments through an omnibus spending bill free of harmful riders.

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CLASP is a national, nonpartisan, anti-poverty organization advancing policy solutions that work for low-income people. With nearly 50 years of trusted expertise, a deeply knowledgeable staff, and a commitment to practical yet visionary approaches to opportunity for all, CLASP lifts up the voices of poor and low-income children, families, and individuals, equips advocates with strategies that work, and helps public officials put good ideas into practice. The organization’s solutions directly address the barriers that individuals and families face because of race, ethnicity, and immigration status, in addition to low income. For more information, visit www.clasp.org and follow @CLASP_DC.