By Stacey Levitt
Last week, after returning to Washington, DC, for a short work period following the August recess and the political conventions, the House of Representatives and the Senate both voted to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to extend federal government funding at current levels through March 2013. With the passage of the CR under its belt, Congress will then hit the campaign trail.
With the federal government's current fiscal year ending on September 30, the passage of the CR means that a government shutdown is avoided and the partisan gridlock that has become customary during spending talks will be held temporarily at bay, at least through the November elections. For cities and towns, this means the federal programs that fund many key local government services will, at a minimum, receive the same amount as in FY 2012. In some instances, there is even positive news-an increase-to report.
Across the board, with a few exceptions, the CR will keep program funding at current levels with a slight increase of 0.6 percent—or nearly $8 billion, bringing the total to $1.047 trillion overall—to meet the cap on discretionary spending set in the Budget Control Act of 2011.
For example, in the areas of Energy and Environment the CR calls for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds to receive $1.466 billion and $917.9 million, respectively, and the Weatherization Assistance Program to be funded at $68 million. In addition, each of these programs would receive the 0.6 percent increase.
Similarly, in the areas of Education, Workforce Development, and Human Services, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/Title I is funded at $14.5 billion, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act at $12.6 billion, Head Start at $8.1 billion, and the Workforce Investment Act at $2.6 billion. The 0.6 percent increase applies to these programs as well.
For the most part, Housing and Community Development programs important to cities and towns, including Homeless Assistance Grants at $1.9 billion, HOME at $1.0 billion, and Choice Neighborhoods at $120 million will also remain at these FY2012 levels plus the .06 percent increase. One bright spot is that the CR restores $300 million to the ever-important Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program by dropping a provision enacted in this year's budget that redirected some CDBG funding to emergency assistance for designated local disasters. When Congress took this action last year, NLC voiced strong opposition to the diversion of funds from an existing program rather than funding disaster relief through the usual supplemental appropriations process. Under the CR, CDBG will now be funded at $3.24 billion and receive the additional 0.6 percent increase.
The CR replenished FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) with $6.4 billion. The fund is used to provide assistance to communities where the President declares a national disaster. Additional highlights in the areas of Emergency Management and Public Safety include the State Homeland Security Grant Program/Transportation and Infrastructure Protection Grants/Urban Area Security Initiative, which will collectively be funded at $1.35 billion; Assistance to Firefighter Grants, funded at $675 million; Byrne Justice Assistance Grants will receive $370 million; and Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Hiring Grants remain at $166 million. Congress also included a provision in the CR that gives the Department of Homeland Security additional funding and flexibility to continue working with federal agencies, states, and local governments to further cybersecurity efforts.
Under the CR, Transportation programs, too, will be funded at FY 2012 levels with a 0.6 percent increase. This includes funding for transit programs, both formula and capital grants. Funding for federal highway programs will not increase due to a technicality in the program that will limit the highway obligation ceiling at its FY 2012 levels and not allow the 1.4 percent increase contained in the new federal surface transportation program, MAP-21, adopted this summer by Congress.
Funding for Airport Improvement Grants and Amtrak would be funded at FY 2012 levels: $3.5 billion and 1.38 billion. The CR also included $503 million for the popular TIGER grant program.
Although transportation programs funded by trust funds were thought to be exempt from the automatic spending cuts, there is some concern that programs funded through general revenue contained in MAP-21 might be subject to the automatic cuts.
While the small, but important, increase in funding in the CR provides needed resources for services in local communities, the automatic spending cuts, also known as sequestration, looming on the horizon in January 2013, may take away that increase (and more) unless Congress takes action to stop it in the post-election lame duck session.
NLC will monitor and report on all matters related to spending and will join with city leaders in advocating for the programs important to our communities, in the weeks and months ahead leading up to the elections and beyond. Continue to look for news on NLC's Influence Federal Policy site, as well as in the Federal Relations Update.