Budget & Appropriations Issues for People with Disabilities
People with disabilities frequently rely on a number of federally funded programs in order to live in the community. These include health care, education, employment, housing, long term services and supports, and transportation programs. In order to effectively advocate for these programs, it is helpful to understand the federal budget and appropriations process and the important people and events that affect it.
Federal Funding Basics
Federal programs are funded through the annual budget and appropriations process and are broken down into two different spending categories. Discretionary spending refers to spending set by annual appropriation decisions made by the Congress. This spending is optional, though it includes very important functions of government, such as defense. Examples of discretionary spending for disability-related programs are: IDEA early intervention, supported employment, protection and advocacy (P&A) programs, and Section 811 supportive housing for persons with disabilities.
Mandatory spending, by contrast, refers to spending that is not controlled by Congress on an annual basis. These funds are required by previously-enacted laws, such as the Social Security Act. So-called “entitlement” spending is for programs that people are entitled to if they meet the eligibility criteria. Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) are examples of mandatory spending for entitlement programs.
Federal funding of the major mandatory and discretionary programs in FY 2010 is shown in the chart below.
The discretionary versus mandatory spending debate is a double edged sword for the disability community. Since the non-defense discretionary portion of the budget that supports most disability related programs is relatively small (less than 20% of the budget), meaningful deficit reduction clearly cannot rely solely on cuts in this area. Instead, attention will turn to the mandatory spending portion of the budget, of which Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security constitute a large portion. The disability community must remain vigilant that any cuts to these programs are realized through program efficiencies rather than through scaling back eligibility, services, or benefits for people with disabilities.
The Budget and Appropriations Process
The President usually submits a Budget Request in the beginning of February. The President’s Budget Request tells Congress how much money the President believes should be spent on the various Cabinet-level federal functions (like defense, education, health, agriculture) and the programs that fall under them.
Traditionally, the Congress begins its process by adopting a Budget Resolution. The Budget Resolution sets total spending levels and distributes federal spending among 20 functional categories (such as defense, education, health, agriculture). The House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee receive their spending limits, and distribute the funding among their respective subcommittees. (The vast majority of discretionary programs of interest to the disability community are funded through two House and Senate Subcommittees: 1) Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies; and 2) Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies.) The Committees then draft a spending bill which follows the regular legislative process.
During the last several years, the National debt has increased dramatically, surpassing $14 trillion in 2011. Starting in 2010, a number of efforts were launched to develop plans for reducing our annual deficits (the difference between what the federal government takes in and what it spends each year) and our national debt (cumulative deficits). These efforts included the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (also known as “Bowles-Simpson after its co-chairmen), the bipartisan “Gang of Six” Senators’ negotiations, and the White House talks led by Vice President Joe Biden. Ultimately, last minute direct negotiations between the White House and Congressional leadership resulted in enactment of the Budget Control Act on August 2, 2011. This law (PL112-25) coupled raising the Nation’s borrowing authority to avert a global economic catastrophe of the U.S. defaulting on its debt with a comprehensive 10-year plan to cut federal spending and reduce the deficit.
The Budget Control Act will have a profound effect on all federal spending in the coming decade. However, the most critical budgeting decisions will be made in the fall of 2011. This is when disability-related and other programs could be reduced, restructured, or entirely eliminated during different stages created by the law. The Arc will work tirelessly during this time and seek the active participation of our grassroots network to ensure that our priority programs are protected. Learn more about the Budget Control Act and how you can get involved in safeguarding critical federal programs for people with intellectual disability and their families.
Deficit Reduction and the “Fiscal Cliff” – New Publication for Disability Advocates
Disability advocates must remain engaged throughout 2012 and into 2013 to minimize cuts to these programs and protect eligibility and services that are vital to the lives of people with disabilities. Advocates must urge Congress to provide sufficient revenues to fund critical services and supports needed by individuals with I/DD to live and work in the community.
The bottom line is that our work is far from over, and Medicaid continues to be at risk. The analysis in The Arc's National Policy Matters aims to educate advocates about the current fiscal situation and its potential impact on people with I/DD.