Omnibus Bill Largely Averts Short-Term Crisis, Yet Threatening Clouds on the Horizon
This statement from the Center on Law and Social Policy (CLASP) can be attributed to Olivia Golden, CLASP’s executive director
Washington, DC, May 4, 2017—The federal omnibus spending bill, which passed both the U.S. House and Senate over the last two days and covers the remaining five months of fiscal year 2017 (FY17), is a mixed bag for poor and low-income people. CLASP is heartened that the bill rejects President Trump’s call for deep cuts to key domestic programs—even making modest additional investments in programs that will help people on their paths to economic security—and ignores outrageous demands like funding the border wall. The bill also avoids a partial shutdown of the federal government, which would have delayed the delivery of important services. At the same time, we are concerned that FY17 funding is wholly inadequate to meet the needs of low-income people. Moreover, we see dark clouds ahead because of even greater threats in the upcoming FY18 budget, as well as in the efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, attack Medicaid, and cut taxes for corporations and the wealthy.
First, the good news: the omnibus spending bill includes several new investments that help poor and low-income people, and it excludes a number of proposals that would have been damaging. The bill:
- Revives year-round eligibility for Pell Grants (also referred to as “Summer Pell”) that will allow low-income postsecondary students enrolled at least part-time to receive essential funding for their studies continuously throughout the year.
- Increases by $50 million the “TRiO” awards that assist low-income people, first-generation college students, and individuals with disabilities as they move into postsecondary education programs.
- Increases by $95 million the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which currently only provides child care assistance to 1 in 6 eligible children.
- Boosts funding for Head Start by $85 million to provide a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to grantees.
- Includes nearly $300 million for Puerto Rico’s capped Medicaid program.
- Excludes any funding for the construction of a border wall, although it does include some resources to repair the existing fence along the Mexico border.
- Does not include funding that the president requested for additional Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.
Despite these positive steps for low-income people, CLASP is deeply concerned about the future. After years of inadequate funding, many programs came into this budget cycle at the lowest level in a decade when adjusted for inflation—and then were held flat for one more year, effectively representing yet another decrease. The flat-funded programs include workforce training, adult education, career and technical education, student financial aid, and enforcement of labor standards. In the 2017 budget, Congress also chose to raid $1.3 billion from the Pell Grant program to pay for other priorities, a dangerous policy that threatens to trigger automatic, required cuts to student aid in future years. The FY17 funding for some important worker protection programs has been cut, including a $2 million reduction to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and a $1 million cut to the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which is responsible for ensuring federal contractors comply with equal employment opportunity and nondiscrimination laws. And despite the exclusion of funding for new border patrol and ICE agents, the FY17 budget includes an additional $1.5 billion (half of what the president requested) for continued aggressive immigration enforcement measures, such as increased detentions and deportations of undocumented immigrants, many of whom are being separated from family members and loved ones.
With the FY 2017 spending bill approved, Congress is now free to turn to other priorities. In the next weeks, Congress will begin considering spending plans for the next fiscal year, which begins in less than five months. President Trump has already called for deep cuts to domestic programs, along with increased spending on the military and immigration enforcement. Other Congressional Republican priorities could include deliberations in the Senate on disastrous health care legislation that would dismantle the fundamental promise of health insurance for low-income children, parents, individuals with disabilities, and seniors through Medicaid, devastate state budgets, and sharply reduce access to affordable health care for all Americans. President Trump last week also called for a tax bill that would slash tax rates for corporations and the wealthy.
Our country can help offset the damaging prevalence of economic insecurity by a strong commitment to addressing the needs of ordinary Americans—including those who live in poverty—not by helping the wealthy do even better. Such a commitment should start with a strong health care system—including Medicaid—and FY18 spending bills that expand and invest in the education, child care, safety net, and workforce development programs that are crucial to stabilizing families, promoting success, and helping low-income individuals get and keep their jobs and build their careers. Current federal investments are woefully insufficient to meet the needs of a large share of Americans. Under the ever-tightening vise of sequestration, domestic spending has already failed to keep up with inflation over the past several years, let alone expand to meet the demonstrated needs of families who are earnestly seeking economic security.
Unfortunately, President Trump’s and Congressional leaders’ words and actions on health care, tax reform and the FY18 budget reflect just the opposite priorities—tax cuts for the richest Americans and sharply eroded help for everyone else. The president and Congress must remember that investments in education, employment, young children, and anti-poverty strategies are crucial to America’s future. CLASP will fight back against damaging proposals and work to ensure policymakers make the right decisions for children, families, and individuals who struggle every day to make ends meet.
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The Center for Law and Social Policy (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 clasp2022.tealmedia.dev and follow @CLASP_DC.