Congress Funds Majority of Government Through 2015
This week, shortly before adjourning, Congress passed a continuing resolution/omnibus measure to fund the bulk of the federal government through the end of the fiscal year, September 2015. The $1.1 trillion spending measure passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 219-206, and the Senate by a vote of 56-40, after extended debate in both chambers. It encompasses 11 full appropriations bills that fund federal agencies through the end of FY2015, and one continuing resolution that funds the Department of Homeland Security only until Feb. 27, 2015, in response to President Obama's recent executive action on immigration. Click below to read a brief analysis of the impact of the budget on cities' top federal program priorities in the following areas:
- Housing and Community Development
- Workforce Development, Education, and Health and Human Services
- Energy and Environment
- Public Safety and Homeland Security
Local priorities for transportation are predominantly funded through three programs: the transit program, the TIGER grants program and the federal highways program. Funding through the transit and TIGER programs is allocated directly to local governments, and funding through the federal highways program is allocated to the states to fund projects that may include local priorities.
The omnibus provides $10.9 billion for transit programs to improve subway, light rail and bus rapid transit services; $500 million for TIGER grants that are awarded competitively to state and local governments to support roads and bridges, railroads, transit systems and port infrastructure; and $40.3 billion for the federal highways program to fund road and bridge projects authorized under the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). These amounts are approximately level with FY 2014. The omnibus also provides new funding and policy changes to increase the rail safety of crude oil shipments, changes for which NLC has advocated. Among the changes, the bill provides for hiring new rail and hazardous materials inspectors, expanding the use of automated track inspections and funds improvements in the classification of hazardous materials, safe design for rail cars, railroad grade crossings on routes that transport energy products and training for emergency responders.
Housing subsidies are allocated through two Section 8 rental assistance programs, which the omnibus funds at $19.3 billion and $9.7 billion, to support over three million low-income families and individuals, including elderly and disabled residents. Funding for the Section 8 program also includes $75 million for the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program to provide housing for 10,000 additional veterans experiencing homelessness. HUD-VASH has helped reduce homelessness among veterans by 33 percent since 2010, a program priority for NLC.
The omnibus allocates $2.14 billion for Homeless Assistance Grants that fund locally-administered programs to provide families and individuals access to permanent supportive housing, rapid rehousing and emergency shelters.
As in previous years, the omnibus bill reduces overall funding for community development grants allocated directly to local governments. The reduction is a result of HUD dollars being redirected to the Section 8 program to offset the inflationary costs of housing and to maintain existing housing vouchers. However, as a result of NLC's ongoing advocacy for the Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG), the omnibus bill provides approximately level funding for CDBG at $3 billion to support housing and economic development projects in urban and rural communities across the county.
The omnibus also provides $80 million for Choice Neighborhoods grants for local projects that tear down and rebuild distressed public housing; and $900 million for the HOME Investment Partnership Program, which is $100 million less than FY 2014 and consistent with the $127 million increase for the Section 8 program.
Changes in funding for workforce and human development programs from FY2014 levels were small, in large part because of the budget agreement that stopped sequestration for the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years and established very similar funding caps for each fiscal year. With a few exceptions, Congress maintained or increased funding for programs important to cities in these areas.
Overall funding for health programs through the Department of Health and Human Services increased by $71 billion over FY2014 to $692 billion. Funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Head Start, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and the Social Services Block Grant program remained level. Funding for the National Institutes of Health increased by $150 million, to $30 billion.
Funding for the Workforce Investment and Opportunities Act also increased overall. While Congress increased funding for adult employment and training programs for 2015 from $766 million to $776 million, and youth programs from $820 million to $831 million, it chose to level fund the dislocated worker program at $1 billion. YouthBuild saw a slight increase from $77 to $79 million while Native American, Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker, Job Corps and Senior Employment programs were all level funded.
Overall funding for the Department of Education dropped slightly, from $70.6 billion to $70.4 billion. Congress level funded the Department of Education's Title I program at $14.4 billion and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), more commonly referred to as special education, at $11.5 billion, but reduced funding for Pell from $22.7 billion to $22.4 billion.
Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds
The Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds (SRFs) received a total of $2.35 billion in the FY15 omnibus, with the Clean Water SRF receiving $1.448 billion and the Drinking Water SRF receiving $906 million. These figures represent level funding from the FY14 omnibus and are higher than the president's budget request. The SRFs are an integral tool used by local governments to comply with the federal Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act and upgrade and improve our nation's clean water and drinking water infrastructure through projects such as pipe replacement, stormwater mitigation and source water protection.
Additionally, the omnibus also provides that:
- 10 percent of the Clean Water SRF funds be used for projects that address green infrastructure, water or energy efficiency improvements, or other environmentally innovative activities.
- No less than 20 percent but no more than 30 percent of both SRF funds be in the form of additional subsidization for local governments, such as principal forgiveness, negative interest loans, or grants (or a combination thereof).
Superfund and Brownfields
The omnibus package provides a slight decrease in funding for both the Superfund and Brownfields programs, with $1.088 billion (down from $1.1 billion in FY14) and $80 million (down from $90 million in FY14) appropriated respectively. These programs are used for the restoration and redevelopment of abandoned or under-utilized industrial and commercial sites, which are frequently contaminated due to past use.
The omnibus does not include the most contentious environmental policy riders (those pertaining to the EPA's proposed rulemakings on "Waters of the U.S." and greenhouse gas emissions), however, NLC expects that these issues will be subject to debate in the next Congress.
Energy Efficiency and the Weatherization Assistance Program
Overall, the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy will receive $1.937 billion for research, development and programs related to solar, wind, vehicle and building technologies and advanced manufacturing. Included in that figure is $190 million for the Weatherization Assistance Program (an increase of $16 million over FY14), which helps low-income families improve the energy efficiency of their homes and reduce their energy bills.
Congress allocated $27 billion to support key U.S. Department of Justice programs championed by NLC. The funding included $68 million to continue to fund grants through the Second Chance Act, $8.5 million for the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program (created by the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act) , and $214 million for the Community Oriented Policing Services program.
The continuing resolution stopgap spending portion of the bill freezes funding levels for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through Feb. 27. The uncertainty of DHS appropriations for the remainder of the year could delay application and funding process for the 2015 State and Local Homeland Security Grants, Urban Area Security Initiative Grants and other Federal Emergency Management Agency Grants. This will impact the ability of cities to move forward with public safety programs that are funded by DHS grants.