public-policy news

Omnibus Spending Bill Supports Community Well-Being

March 28, 2018

Last week, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 to fund the government through the end of September. One notable aspect of the agreement is what was left out—the bill includes no language to repeal or weaken the Johnson Amendment. While the human service sector should be proud of this victory, Tim Delaney, CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits advises supporters of the Johnson Amendment “to remain vigilant,” noting that in the past year there have been efforts to undermine the Johnson Amendment “through an executive order and five separate bills.” NHSA will continue to monitor this issue and help ensure the sector can continue to focus resources on its mission and not partisan politics.

The omnibus spending bill enriches early childhood education by allocating more funding to programs that help kids reach their full-potential. Combined, the Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services received a $14 billion increase in funding over Fiscal Year 2017. The Child Care and Development Block Grant received the largest-ever single-year increase in funding from $2.8 billion to $5.2 billion. This investment will deliver access to child care for an additional 151,000 children throughout the country. Head Start saw a $610 million increase and the allocation for 21st Century Community Learning Centers received a $20 million boost to $1.2 billion. The bill notably provides $300 million in new grants to local education agencies and schools with a high percentage of students who come from low-income families. These grants may be used for afterschool programs and summer learning supports.

Congress also used the omnibus package to strengthen the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program which has recently been under the threat of elimination. The bill preserves the current programs and creates a new $350 million fund for student loan borrowers who have made payments under plans that would generally not qualify for loan forgiveness under the current system. The bill further promotes access to higher education by maintaining support for a year-round Pell Grant program and raised the maximum annual award to $6,095, a $175 increase for the upcoming academic year.

A guidance report was attached to the spending package which clarified that the Dickey Amendment does not prohibit the Center for Disease Control (CDC) from conducting research on gun violence, but only bars it from explicitly advocating for gun control. This shift may create opportunities for new avenues of research into gun violence. Experts, however, caution that this may be a red herring because no new funding was allocated to the CDC for this research.

Unfortunately, the spending bill did not include any policy solution for temporary or permanent immigration relief for Dreamers. But, the legislation did earmark $1.6 billion for new “border security” measures.

For a summary of other funding increases in the omnibus package, read a synopsis by the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities.