"Who Gets Spared And Who Still Suffers Under Congress’s Latest Budget Deal"
On Monday evening, House and Senate negotiators unveiled a bill that fills in the details of the budget agreement reached at the end of last year. If passed, the appropriations bill doles out specific funds to a huge variety of government programs. It now heads to the House and Senate, where it will likely be voted on Wednesday in the former and before the weekend by the latter.
A second round of sequestration cuts would have taken place if Congress hadn’t reached a deal and would have been even more damaging than the reductions in 2013, but instead lawmakers increased spending to partially undo the automatic cuts. But until yesterday’s bill, it wasn’t clear which programs would get complete relief and which would still have reduced budgets. Here’s how the negotiators handled some of the programs that suffered from sequestration last year:
Negotiators parceled out $8.6 billion for Head Start, $612 million more than what the program received in 2013. Democrats on the Committee on Appropriations say this is enough “to both fully restore the cuts to Head Start and to invest in the Administration’s Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships.” That could mean re-opening slots for the more than 57,000 children who were kicked out of Head Start last year and allow programs to bring back bus services that had been eliminated and longer hours and more days of service that had been reduced.
Meals on Wheels
The Seniors’ Nutrition programs, which fund Meals on Wheels, gets $815 million, $46 million more than it got after sequestration cuts kicked in. Democrats say that is enough to fully restore meals. In the face of last year’s cuts, nearly 70 percent of Meals on Wheels programs reduced the number of meals they served, cutting 364 per week on average. But it had a larger impact than just cutting meals, forcing one in six programs to close home meal programs or congregate meal sites and about 70 percent to create or add to waiting lists for those who wanted to join the programs.
While the appropriations bill gives the National Institutes of Health $1 billion more than what it got under sequestration, the $29.9 billion allotted to it is still $714 million less than what it was meant to get in 2013 before the cuts. The National Science Foundation gets $7.2 billion, which is nearly $70 million below what it was meant to get in 2013. Sequestration cuts had significant impacts on scientific research projects last year after many of these agencies already had to deal with falling budgets for the past three years. The cuts meant that some projects closed, nearly half of the country’s scientists had to fire people, and about 70 percent couldn’t expand their research operations. Without significantly increased investment, the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein has warned that “the nation’s role as an international leader in scientific research is at risk.”
The Food and Drug Administration will get $2.55 billion, $96 million than what it would have gotten before sequestration, and the Department of Agriculture food safety and inspection program gets $24 million more than it did under the automatic cuts. The FDA had already experienced rounds of budget cuts to its food safety programs before sequestration came around, and the budget cuts hampered the agency even more, putting more Americans at risk of contracting food-borne illnesses.
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program will get $169 million more than under sequestration, but still $40 million less than it would have otherwise last year. The program had already absorbed a 25 percent reduction in funding between 2011 and 2012, even though the number of households who rely on the program to stay warm in the winter has remained steady. That means less of their heating bill is covered by the subsidy, which can lead people to turn their heat down too low or rely on heating their homes with ovens or space heaters, which can end up being fatal.
The Section 8 program, which helps low-income people afford their rent, will get $123 million more than it would have pre-sequestration for tenant-based assistance and $596 million more for project-based assistance. That may not bring relief to the people who had moved off of waiting lists for assistance right before sequestration but had their vouchers rescinded, but it would hopefully mean that more people can start moving off the waiting lists and into their own housing.
The bill also restores cuts to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and should restore funding to domestic violence programs and child care assistance. A variety of other programs will be impacted by the deal if it passes.
But one area that wasn’t spared was Obamacare, which got no new funding under the appropriations deal and some pieces were even chipped away. The Prevention and Public Health fund, meant to support preventative health and public health measures, would get reduced by $1 billion after being cut a handful of times. The Independent Payment Advisory Board, the board tasked with cutting costs in Medicare, would be cut by $10 million.