A Tale of Two (Very Different) Federal Appropriations Bills

(September 1, 2023)

While the General Assembly in Harrisburg finalizes the fiscal codes that are needed to distribute the recently passed budget, budget and appropriations work in Washington is still happening and is shaping up to be quite challenging.

In comparison to the state budget, the discretionary portion of the federal budget is broken up into 12 appropriations bills that are developed within specific appropriations subcommittees. In regards to the policy areas that Allies for Children’s focuses on, these funding allocations are “marked up” in the House and Senate’s Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHSED) Appropriations Subcommittee and in the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration Appropriations Subcommittee (Agriculture Appropriations). The deadline for all 12 appropriations bills to be approved by both chambers is October 1. If this deadline is missed, then there will be a “government shutdown,” where funds are not distributed, workers are laid off, and federal offices, parks, and other federally funded programs are closed. It is not unusual for Congress to not have the appropriations bills finalized by October 1 and the government does not shut down. In order to avoid a government shutdown, Congress must pass a “continuing resolution” which keeps federally funded programs at their current levels while Congress continues to work on a final appropriations package.

This year, with the spending caps in place from the passage of the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, which raised the debt ceiling, but put in place spending limits for FY 2024 and 2025, it is unlikely that we will see significant increases in federally funded programs that impact children and families. In fact, maintaining current levels in a finalized budget will be a victory.

In July, both the House and Senate appropriations committees passed very different versions of LHHSED appropriations bills. In the House LHHSED subcommittee, the allocations for programs impacting children, including education programs, are truly devastating for children and schools. The only glimmer of a bright spot, if level-funding is considered a bright-spot, is the maintaining of career and technical education funding and for students with special needs (IDEA Part B State Grants). Some of the programs eliminated/cut under the House bill include:

  • 80% cut to Title I state grants to local education agencies, and also would rescind $8.7 billion of advance funding for Title I grants to states that would become available this fall and available for usage in the current school year
  • Eliminates Title II of ESSA – Effective instruction for state grants
  • Eliminates Magnet School program
  • Eliminates Teacher Quality Partnerships
  • Eliminates Federal Work-study program
  • Eliminates Job Corps
  • Eliminates Javits Gifted/Talented program
  • Eliminates Arts in Education Program
  • 25% Cut to the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education
  • $1.6 Billion Cut to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and eliminates programs that address climate change and research on firearms

While this funding bill has passed the subcommittee, it still must pass the full committee, and then the House of Representatives. Even if it is approved by the chamber, it is unlikely that the House LHHSED bill will be the final allocations. Many insiders believe that this funding bill was to outline conservative congressional members’ priorities knowing that it will never pass the Senate. It is important to note it though because it is likely to serve as a beginning low point for budget negotiations.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, the Senate LHHSED appropriations subcommittee, and the full Appropriations Committee passed a much more reasonable funding bill that maintains current funding levels or provides modest increases for programs, and does not eliminate any programs. Highlights include:

  • 1% increase for Title I State Grants
  • 1.2% increase for IDEA (students with disabilities)
  • 2.8% increase for Perkins Career and Technical Education
  • 9% increase for Child Care and Development Block Grants
  • 2.3% increase for Head Start
  • $35 million increase to the Mental Health block grant to address the worker shortage

This pattern continues with the House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations. The Senate bill has been passed with the following highlights:

  • Fully funds Child Nutrition Programs at $32 billion, ensuring schools can serve healthy school meals. In FY24, this will help serve an estimated 2.6 billion breakfasts and 5 billion lunches to children across the United States.
  • Fully funds the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to serve an estimated 42 million people each month.
  • $615 million increase for WIC; maintains the current science-based fruit and vegetable benefit levels

The corresponding House bill, on the other hand, includes:

  • A reduction of more than 12% for WIC. Maintain funding levels in budget authority at $6 billion, but includes a larger recission, reducing available funding by $185 million compared to fiscal year 2023. Also reverts back to early 2021 levels of fruit and vegetable benefits.
  • $32 billion for child nutrition programs, a $3.5 billion increase over FY23, which includes the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, and Summer Food Service Programs.
  • $122 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), to revert back to pre-COVID level benefits. This proposal would also increase the age of unemployed and underemployed adults who face time limits on eligibility, unless they document monthly work hours, as well as restrict consumer food choices.

Congress will reconvene in Washington in the first two weeks of September. As the October 1 deadline approaches, efforts to complete a final appropriations package or pass a continuing resolution will be underway. We will see if the House and Senate are able to reach a compromise and avoid a shut down. To further complicate this, about 30 members of the House Freedom Caucus recently released a statement saying that they will not support a continuing resolution or approve any appropriations bills, unless the House leadership agrees to specific criteria outlined by the caucus. You can read more about this here.

Advocates in Washington are pushing for the Senate allocations in the final bill. Allies for Children supports those efforts, and encourages our representatives and Senators in Washington to reject the House’s allocations and approve the Senate LHHSED and Agriculture Appropriations bills.

Jamie Baxter, Allies for Children Executive Director