What to expect from the budget & appropriations processes (and how to make an impact)

by Jillian Luchner

It’s early February, which technically means the release of the President’s budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year (FY 18). Under new administrations, this date is often pushed back to give the president time to coalesce a cabinet first. Meanwhile, the budget and appropriations process hasn’t operated as it technically should for years. Which brings us to where we are today. In the following we try to express what is known about how the fiscal year 2018 (FY 2018) budget and appropriations process may roll out in the coming year. Adding to the confusion is the fact that Congress still needs to finalize FY2017 spending, which currently expires April 28.

President’s Budget: While the President’s budget director nominee Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) has yet to be confirmed, publications like The Hill and conversations around the halls of government suggest that the President is expected to release a “skinny budget” or a condensed list of major budget priorities within the next month.

A complete budget request detailing the President’s desired expenditures and funding levels for all government departments and programs may be released late in the spring, but timing for the release is very much up in the air.

Congressional Appropriations: Last September and again last December, Congress passed continuing resolutions (CRs) to keep the government operating because they could not complete a final FY17 budget. After the election in November, a decision was made to “kick the can down the road” to the new Congress to finalize spending levels for the fiscal year that began on October 1, 2016.  These CRs have maintained federal spending at FY 16 levels. The CR passed last December is set to expire on April 28th 2017, when Congress again will decide whether to complete spending bills for the FY 2017 fiscal year by passing individual spending measures or passing an omnibus bill, or just continuing the CR through the end of the fiscal year on September 30th.

If Congress does decide to extend the CR, (this option is considered the most likely) they will need to consider how to handle recently passed legislation that authorizes funding changes. For example, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which passed in December 2015, consolidates certain education programs that formerly had independent funding streams, and it creates new programs as well. As the law goes into full force in the FY 18/19 school year, the government will allocate funding on July 1st and will need to know how much to allocate to which programs. For this reason, Congress must  include in a full-year l CR a number of “anomalies” or changes that reallocate funds.

If Congress decides instead to pass individual appropriations bills, rather than a final CR, that will require reconciling the funding differences between House and Senate funding bills passed by the Appropriations Committees in last year’s 114th Congress. The House Appropriations bill kept 21st Century Community Learning Centers level funded, however the Senate bill appropriated only $1.050 billion for the programs, a potential cut that would eliminate programming for hundreds to thousands of students in each state and over 100,000 students across the nation. The new Congress and reconstructed committees in each Chamber may also require additional compromises if new bills are to be passed and reconciled.

And as it completes its work on funding for FY 17, Congress is also tasked to begin its work on the FY 18 budget and appropriations bills, a process that usually begins early in the Spring after the President’s State of the Union address. Since there is no base line yet for FY17, beginning a new process certainly will be challenging. One thing has been decided, however, the new committee members for House (R and D) and Senate Appropriations subcommittee (R and D) for Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) have been completed.

Recently, we have heard from advocates meeting with Members of Congress that finding funding for the President’s expected priorities such as increasing defense, building a border wall and infrastructure could make for a very tight funding landscape. In addition, in FY18 sequestration returns with about a 3 percent cut from FY17 in domestic discretionary spending caps. 

Effects on Afterschool: Because federal funding for afterschool programs is dispersed July 1st, prior CRs did not affect program funding levels. However the competing priorities and uncertainty around the appropriations process this year make it an important time to reach out. Even avid Congressional supporters of afterschool in the past may feel stressed by other  funding priorities. Your work to thank supporters and garner new advocates will be ESSENTIAL to sustaining afterschool funding.

What to do: Friends of afterschool, advocates, programs, parents, mayors, police officer, community members, school board members can all let their Members of Congress know how important these programs, and the federal supports for them, are to their students, families and communities. Keeping afterschool at the front of your legislator’s mind and helping him/her understand the impact of this federal support in your community helps ensure they can’t easily make drastic funding cuts to programs  when push comes to shove at the negotiating table. Rather they will be able to envision your student, program and story and the impact this funding has on their constituents and will be reluctant to cut funding  and rather will advocate for it to remain.

Write a letter to tell your story, make a phone call, visit your district office or the Washington DC office of all your representatives, invite them to a program. Then ask your friends and partners to do the same.

Keep the field and community alert too. Write to the newspapers to showcase and highlight the benefits of these programs. Keep your networks strong and your voice heard. It is going to be a complicated year, but clear voices with a clear message will continue to be heard.

© 2013 Afterschool Alliance