On Thursday, April 10, by a vote of 219 to 205 the House approved a budget resolution (H. Con. Res. 96) crafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI). All Democrats and 12 Republicans voted against its final passage.
Ryan claims the proposal would balance the budget within ten years. To get there it makes significant cuts to entitlements including block-granting Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/food stamps) and it makes additional cuts to the Pell education grants. H. Con. Res. 96 also converts Medicare to a “premium support” proposal (what is referred to as turning Medicare into a voucher program) and eliminates the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG). In total it proposes over $5 trillion in spending cuts over the next ten years, which according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities would make over 70 percent of those cuts to programs that assist low income families.
The block-granting of Medicaid would cut funding for the health care program by $732 billion. States would have flexibility in spending their Medicaid funds, but as the aging population grows with baby-boomer retirements, there will be enormous pressure to pit spending for long term care against spending for children, low income families, and the newly eligible adults covered through the Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148). The block grant would include an adjustment based on inflation and population growth over time, but previous block grants adopted with similar gradual increases did not retain them long. For example, SSBG and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The supplemental grants under the TANF block grant that were intended to assist 17 states due to future population growth and low funding was cut out by Congress in 2011.
The weakening of programs through block granting is ironically highlighted as H. Con. Res. 96 not only proposes to convert SNAP and Medicaid into block grants, but also proposes the elimination of the former entitlement-based funding source: SSBG. SSBG continues to be a target for elimination and its future is in doubt if the Senate changes party control after next year’s election. A proposal by Senator Orin Hatch (R-UT), the potential chair of the Finance Committee, which has over-site of the program, would funnel all of SSBG into child welfare, while his House counterparts would use all of it for deficit reduction. SSBG needs the attention of advocates NOW before it goes!