After last-minute action on Friday by the U.S. House and Senate, along with President Obama’s signature this morning, the federal government has a temporary spending bill that keeps the doors open for another 20 weeks, through April 28. The first “Continuing Resolution” (CR) for the federal Fiscal Year 2017 (FY17), which began October 1, 2016, expired on December 9.
This temporary spending bill is the last action the current Congress took before adjourning for the year. The spending bill for the rest of FY17 (covering the period of April 29 to September 30), along with an FY18 bill, will be taken up by the newly elected Congress in the spring. Based on the proposals that Republican leaders in the House and Senate have made, those budgets could make deep cuts in core programs intended to address the needs of the 13.5 percent of Americans who live in poverty–woefully underfunding programs like Head Start, job training, and Pell grants that help low-income families, workers, and students. At the same time, Republicans will likely seek to sharply increase the budget for defense spending and reduce taxes for the richest Americans. As the new president and Congress act on the budget next spring, they must remember that investments in education, employment, young children, and anti-poverty strategies are crucial to America’s future.
In the interim, CRs, which are used in the absence of an approved federal spending bill, typically continue the funding for discretionary programs at a rate or formula consistent with the previous fiscal year. This CR includes a 0.19 percent across-the-board cut, which is compounded by the fact that the FY16 budget was the lowest in a decade when adjusted for inflation—meaning that this latest CR represents a significant effective decrease.
Specific examples of the consequences of temporary funding levels in the bill include the following:
- Reducing current child care funding, which is already sharply inadequate, leaves states without the resources necessary to implement the critical improvements passed by Congress in 2014 to improve the health, safety, and quality of child care and to provide low-income working families with more stable child care assistance. Already, the number of children receiving child care funded through the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant program has fallen to a 16-year low, with just 1.4 million children being served in 2014, and more will surely lose access without new funding.
- Fewer workers will receive the skills training and postsecondary credentials they need to move toward better jobs, since this year’s funding level for adult education is more than 6 percent below the FY 2017 amounts authorized in 2014’s bipartisan reauthorization of the federal workforce development law. Moreover, current funding for key adult and youth employment and training is more than 3 percent lower than WIOA-authorized levels for next year. This would continue a decline in funding for these programs of more than 30 percent in real terms over the past 15 years.
- Communities of color have been hit especially hard by federal disinvestment in key programs such as child care, workforce training, and Head Start. Youth of color, particularly out of school youth, simply don’t have the resources they need to succeed, and young children cannot get the start they need and deserve without help. With children of color soon to be half of all children—and already half of children under five—their success matters deeply to America’s future.
Our country can help offset the damaging prevalence of poverty and economic insecurity by making a strong commitment to addressing poverty. Such a commitment should start with the enactment next year of FY17 and FY18 spending bills that expand and invest in the crucial education, child care, safety net, and workforce development programs that help people get and keep a job, stabilize families, and promote success. In addition, policymakers must focus resources and attention on those who face the most barriers—children, youth, and families of color, immigrant families, and those whose opportunities are limited by pervasive poverty in their neighborhoods and communities.
Unfortunately, the current statements of Congressional leaders suggest that the spring’s budget could reflect just the opposite priorities—tax cuts for the richest Americans and sharply eroded help for everyone else. CLASP intends to redouble efforts to ensure policymakers make the right decisions for those children, families, and individuals struggling to make ends meet. To that end, we are working closely with the Coalition on Human Needs on a variety of efforts, including this sign-on letter that the Coalition’s “Save for All” campaign will be sending in early January to the president and members of Congress. Hundreds of national, state, and local organizations have already taken the concrete step of signing on, and you may do so here.