Senate Stalls on Move To Adopt Labor-HHS Appropriations

The Senate started to move an appropriations bill for FY 2015 for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (Labor-HHS) last week but the effort appeared to have stalled out by Thursday when the full committee was expected to debate the bill. On Tuesday, June 10, the subcommittee passed a bill after a brief period of discussion with the full debate awaiting the full committee two days later. But that full committee debate never came and it may now be put off due to potential controversy over various parts of the bill related to the Affordable Care Act.

The subcommittee bill (not released yet) provides $157 billion in discretionary funding, the same as last year with some adjustments. The few details available include proposed increases for Head Start, Child Care and Pre-K, a relative victory in a tight budget. Head Start would be funded at $8.742 billion an overall increase of $145 million with $65 million of that for a designated increase in Early Head Start. Child Care funding would increase to $2.458 billion in discretionary funding, a $100 million increase and the Pre-K initiative first funded at $250 million in January would increase to $350 million.

A major challenge for this appropriations bill is the need to increase funding for unaccompanied minors through the Office of Refugee Assistance. The Subcommittee made some shifts in funding, rejecting some Administration requests to other programs, to provide $1.9 billion in funding which represents an increase of a little more than $1 billion. Unaccompanied minors are young people and children crossing over the border in an effort to escape events in their own countries and frequently coming here without a family or destination. The projected number for this year is 60,000 children, dramatically higher than the 13,000 in FY 2012 and much higher than the average of 6800 a year between 2004 through 2011. The situation has been developing in recent years but in the last two weeks the news coverage of the topic has exploded.

Most of the unaccompanied children are coming from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras through Mexico. A report last year by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Mission to Central America: Flight of Unaccompanied Children to the United States, documented the challenges and problems these young people face both in their native country and here in the United States. In addition to the HHS funds there will be additional funds through the State Department and Homeland Security budgets with funding increases there adding an additional approximate $200 million.

This now leaves the Labor-HHS bill in limbo. The Senate was attempting to bring its bill to the floor at least by June. The House is also unlikely to act on their bill so negotiations and decisions may now wait until after the election, an outcome some were predicting all along.

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