The Senate Appropriations Committee proposes to cut 2020 funding for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education by $2.7 billion below the 2019 level in inflation-adjusted terms, even though the President and Congress agreed this summer to increase overall non-defense discretionary (NDD) funding for 2020.
Moreover, the bill increases funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), so other priorities that the bill funds — including helping families afford child care and improve their children’s opportunities, strengthening workers’ skills, improving health and education, and administering Social Security — face a cut of nearly $4.3 billion after adjusting for inflation, which would worsen shortfalls in some areas that already face serious funding gaps. The House, which provided a larger share of its overall increased funding for NDD for 2020 to Labor-HHS-Education programs, offers a far better approach.
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 lifted the NDD funding caps for 2020 and 2021, setting the 2020 cap $24.5 billion above the 2019 enacted level in nominal dollars. It also allowed for some NDD funding outside the caps (such as for war costs and wildfire suppression), bringing the total 2020 increase to $26.3 billion. After adjusting for inflation, the NDD funding available in 2020 is $10.8 billion above the 2019 level. But, as noted, the Senate Labor-HHS-Education bill would be cut by $2.7 billion below the inflation-adjusted 2019 level. (See graph.)
This cut, along with the bill’s increase for NIH, means that it underfunds a wide range of programs that improve the quality of life for millions:
Child care and Head Start. The bill ignores the need for substantial additional investments in early learning, reducing the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) and Head Start by nearly 2 percent ($104 million for CCDBG and $196 million for Head Start) relative to the 2019 level in inflation-adjusted terms.
Child care should be an investment priority, especially because current funding falls well short of need. Only about 1 in 6 children who qualified for child care assistance under federal eligibility rules in 2015 received it due to funding shortfalls, and in 2017 the program assisted 450,000 fewer children than in 2006.
Similarly, without new resources, Head Start can’t keep pace with rising costs, let alone improve high-quality learning for infants and toddlers by expanding Early Head Start, expanding partnerships between Head Start and child care programs, or serving more children in full school-day and full school-year programs. While Head Start served about 887,000 low-income infants, toddlers, and preschoolers in 2017, this included only about 31 percent of eligible preschoolers and 7 percent of eligible infants and toddlers.
The House took a different approach in its Labor-HHS-Education bill. While its 2020 appropriations bills assumed higher overall NDD funding than the bipartisan budget agreement ultimately allowed, the House gave the Labor-HHS-Education bill slightly more than its proportional share of the NDD funding increase for 2020. As we’ve explained, the House bill includes sensible, well-targeted investments in important areas such as early education, job training, K-12 education, Social Security operations, and family planning.