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Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education May Get Short Shrift

The Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education will reportedly receive a disproportionately small share of the recent White House-congressional budget deal’s boost in overall non-defense funding — even though they include many high-priority programs that have faced large cuts since 2010, such as education and job training, and a number of programs that meet only a fraction of the demonstrated need, such as child care assistance.  Policymakers should address this inequity before completing the final appropriations package for 2016.

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees haven’t released the tentative funding allocations that they’re using to fashion the final 2016 omnibus appropriations package, but Rep. Rosa DeLauro, ranking Democrat on the Labor, HHS, and Education appropriations subcommittee, told Congressional Quarterly that her subcommittee’s tentative allocation is 3.3 percent ($5.2 billion) more than in 2015.

By comparison, under the budget deal, overall non-defense appropriations in 2016 are 6.9 percent ($34 billion) above the 2015 level.  Thus, the tentative allocation would let the Labor-HHS-Education programs rise less than half as much as the non-defense average.  These programs represent almost one-third of non-defense appropriations but would get less than one-sixth of the available increase.

This tentative allocation likely won’t put at risk one key activity that this bill funds:  medical research through the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  Republican appropriators proposed much-needed increases for this research even when they tried to adhere to the pre-budget-deal, sequestration-level funding caps. 

But the allocation will leave other high-priority programs at significant risk.  Without additional funds, the subcommittee’s allocation will likely fall short of what’s needed to address these programs along with NIH.

Policymakers should allocate additional funds to reversing some of the cuts in high-priority programs made over the past five years as well as addressing new and emerging priorities.  Here are a few examples (with all figures adjusted for inflation):

  • Job training.  Funding has fallen by 20 percent since 2010, hampering efforts to help unemployed and underemployed workers gain skills needed in today’s economy. 
  • Elementary and secondary education.  Federal support has fallen by 13 percent since 2010, including cuts to the two main grant programs that help schools serve children from disadvantaged backgrounds and meet special education needs.
  • Social Security Administration.  Funding for basic operating expenses has fallen by 11 percent since 2010, leading to cuts in staffing and office hours that increased wait times for appointments and phone service and contributed to a growing backlog of appeals in connection with claims for disability benefits.
  • Child care.  Only about one in six eligible children receive federally funded child care assistance due to limited funding.  Policymakers should invest more dollars to help more working families get affordable child care and to implement measures called for in bipartisan legislation enacted last year to improve safety and quality in child care programs.
  • Early childhood education.  Research highlighting the importance of early childhood education has underscored the need for expanding investments through programs such as Head Start and the Education Department’s preschool development grants.

The funding problem isn’t limited to Labor, HHS, and Education.  As we’ve noted, the revised Transportation and Housing appropriations bill that the Senate considered two weeks ago suggests that policymakers also aren’t investing enough to enable more families to receive housing assistance — despite the growing number of low-income families struggling to pay rent and the lingering effects of sequestration cuts.

Policymakers should adjust the allocations before finalizing the 2016 appropriations package to better address needs in both the Labor-HHS-Education and Housing areas.