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Granite State Rumblings: The Federal Budget Process And A Few Of The Proposed Cuts

BudgetI spent last week in Washington, DC. Two of those days I attended the National Association for the Education Young Children’s (NAEYC) public policy conference. We met with Congressional staff and advocated for programs that support young children and their families. It was a very full couple of days, but time well spent. And I was honored to be with a great team of advocates!

One of the topics we discussed was the Federal Budget. NAEYC put together an informational sheet about the budget which I would like to share with you.

The Federal Budget Process
While there is a traditional budget process, less traditional funding mechanisms have been relied upon by legislators in recent years. The following outlines the traditional budget process, frequently relied upon funding strategies, and additional resources.

The Traditional Federal Budget Process
Traditionally the federal appropriation process has included the following sequence.

Step One: The President’s Budget Request

  • Traditionally the President’s request is submitted to the Congress on the first Monday in February, though the date often changes, especially when a new administration takes office.
  • The President’s budget request details the administration’s position on the full range of federal revenue and spending.
  • The administration uses the budget request to introduce new policies, programs or changes they would like to see enacted.
  • The budget request is a proposal and has no binding authority on Congress.

Step Two: Congress’ Response

  • Creation of a concurrent congressional budget resolution setting the total level of discretionary funding (spending determined by the Appropriations Committee and Congress) for the next fiscal year. While this resolution looks at total federal spending over a 10-year window, it is not binding beyond the approaching fiscal year.
  • Budget resolutions are reviewed by relevant committees and must be approved by the whole chamber.
  • Unlike traditional bills, budget resolutions do not require presidential action and pass with a simple majority.

***(Budget Resolution – a non-binding resolution passed by both chambers of Congress that serves as a framework for budget decisions and sets overall spending limits but does not include funding levels for specific programs.)

Step Three: Congressional Appropriations

  • Once discretionary funding limits have been determined, the funding process moves to the Appropriations Committees in each chamber.
  • The Appropriations Committees determine program-by-program funding levels by addressing 12 separate appropriations bills that are generated by subcommittees covering federal agencies.
  • Appropriations bills are supposed to be passed in “regular order”, meaning the full passage through both chambers by the start of the federal fiscal year on October 1st.
  • As the fiscal year ends, leadership in both chambers often negotiate an omnibus bill, which combines all appropriations bills into one piece of legislation.
  • The final step in enacting program funding consists of the president signing the bills or the omnibus. The president has the authority to veto appropriations bills and Congress can then attempt to override the veto.
  • All appropriation bills are supposed to be fully passed through both chambers by the start of the federal fiscal year (October 1st). Failure to provide appropriations results in a near complete shutdown of federal operations.

***Note: Entitlement programs and other programs that Congress designates as mandatory programs do not rely on the appropriations process.

Alternative Funding Strategies
In recent years Congress has rarely passed appropriations bills as outlined above. Instead, legislators enact a series of continuing resolutions (stopgap measures), which are short-term spending bills that typically maintain funding levels at the previous year’s level in order to avoid a government shutdown.

Should Congress not complete the appropriations process or pass a continuing resolution (CR) by the start of the fiscal year the federal government, with a few exceptions, shuts down. The funding gap created during the time of a government shutdown results in hundreds of thousands of government employees out of work. Unfortunately, the threat of government shutdown is an often-used strategy for elected officials seeking particular priorities be included in or removed from continuing resolutions.

Continuing resolutions usually last for a number of weeks, and are typically renewed when negotiations extend beyond the new deadline. Continuing resolutions can contain policy provisions as well as revisions to funding levels.

Congress also utilizes emergency spending and deficit legislation in order to impact funding changes outside of the typical budget and appropriations process. Emergency funding is commonly associated with ongoing military operations. Unlike most states (all but Vermont), there is no balanced budget requirement included in the U.S. Constitution, permitting the federal government to carry debt year-to-year. As a result, legislation has also been used in an effort to address the federal deficit through the implementation of spending limits.

~Sources: A Brief Guide to the Traditional Budget Process, CBPP: Introduction to the Federal Budget Process, Impacts and Costs of the 2013 Federal Government Shutdown, The President’s Budget Proposal.

GROWING UP GRANITE

Here are the other federal programs benefitting children, in order, among the ten largest are the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance, Social Security benefits for dependents and survivors under 18, child nutrition programs, Title I funding for educating disadvantaged children, and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant.

We learned in the section above that Congress must pass a series of Appropriations bills that fund the work of the Federal Government.  But did you know that both Congress and the President use this process to identify their priorities for the upcoming year?  In recent years, spending has been limited by the use of “sequestration,” a process that automatically makes cuts to all agencies across the federal government without regard to the impact on services.

Most of the impact of sequester is felt in the “discretionary” programs, which includes the majority of programs serving low-income children and their families. Currently, the automatic cuts triggered by the sequester affect both defense related programs and non-defense programs (the latter are known as “non-defense discretionary spending” or NDD). While the sequester was limited in 2014 and 2015, the cuts are scheduled to be in effect as Congress debates the budget for the next fiscal year (FY 2016).

According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, “under current policies, including the sequestration cuts, NDD spending is projected to fall to its lowest level as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) on record in 2016, with data going back to 1962, and will continue to fall thereafter. (Even without the sequestration cuts, NDD spending is projected to reach its lowest level as a share of GDP in 2017). By 2021, if sequestration stays in place, funding for NDD programs will be 18 percent below the 2010 level (adjusted for inflation); 2010 was the last ear before Congress began cutting discretionary funding to reduce the deficit.”

Under current funding levels, the unmet needs of children and families are significant:

  • Only one in six eligible children receives child care assistance that help families work and children be safe and supported in learning and development.
  • Less than half of eligible preschoolers can enroll in Head Start, which provides school-readiness and comprehensive services.
  • Less than four percent of eligible babies and toddlers can enroll in Early Head Start, which ensures a positive developmental foundation for young children.
  • Many children with developmental delays and disabilities are unable to receive early intervention services because of inadequate funding of Part C of IDEA.

If the sequester cuts are allowed to move forward, the impact on early childhood programs will be significant. Programs that have already had to cut hours of service, serve fewer children, limit the services available, cut staff, lower compensation and make do with much less will see even fewer resources available in their states and communities.

The President, in his Budget proposal for FY 2016, recognized both the need for thoughtful investment and the importance of early childhood programs. The President’s budget document invests heavily in early childhood programs to improve outcomes for young children and to support working families. It proposes, first, to end the sequester.

Here’s what you can do.

Make a call or send an e-mail to the offices of our Members of Congress.

Tell them that children need high-quality programs and supports to help them learn, develop, and build the skills necessary to grow strong and healthy in order to succeed in school and life. These programs need to be adequately funded and not threatened by the cuts of sequestration. It is time to end the sequester.

For more information about sequestration: CBPP: Sequestration and Its Impact on Non-Defense Appropriations.

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About MaryLou Beaver

New Hampshire Campaign Director Every Child Matters Education Fund
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