Update from Washington, D.C.
Appropriations Update: CJS; Interior-Environment; and, Energy-Water
May 16, 2019
Despite the absence of a bipartisan agreement on a topline budget number for fiscal year 2020, several House Appropriations subcommittees made progress this week on their respective spending bills. For their part, committee leaders are aiming to complete action on all 12 of the annual spending measures before adjourning for a weeklong Memorial Day recess, with the goal of marshaling the bills through the House by the end of June.
House Democrats on May 16 unveiled their fiscal year 2020 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) spending package, which would provide $73.9 billion in total discretionary funding to the Departments of Commerce and Justice, NASA, and related agencies. The proposed investment would be $9.8 billion more than the fiscal year 2019 enacted level.
Among other things, the legislation, which will be considered by the CJS Subcommittee on May 17, would provide $3.4 billion for state and local law enforcement assistance grant programs. This includes $260 million for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), an increase of roughly $16 million. In addition, the bill would boost funding for the Byrne-Justice Assistance Grant program (+$106 million), as well as Violence Against Women Act programs (+$85 million). The legislation also includes additional funding ($11 million) for the COPS hiring grant program.
With regard to the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), the House bill would provide $2.8 billion for programs authorized under the law. The proposed funding level represents a $515 million decrease when compared to the fiscal year 2019 omnibus appropriations act. However, it should be noted that the House bill’s funding level for VOCA is approximately $500 million more than the cap recommended by the Trump administration in its fiscal year 2020 budget proposal.
The legislation also includes language – often referred to as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment – that would prohibit federal funding from being used to prosecute individuals or businesses acting in compliance with state-legal medical cannabis laws. Finally, the House CJS bill would bar the Census Bureau from including a question about citizenship status in the 2020 census. Specifically, it would prohibit the administration from moving forward with any question that wasn’t tested in the 2018 End-to-End Census Test in Providence County, Rhode Island.
On May 15, the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee approved its fiscal year 2020 spending bill. All told, the legislation would provide about $37.3 billion in funding for the Department of the Interior (excluding the Bureau of Reclamation), the Environmental Protection Agency, and a number of related agencies. It should be noted that the proposed spending is $1.73 billion more than the fiscal year 2019 enacted level and $7.24 billion more than President Trump’s budget request.
Among other things, the bill would provide full funding for the Payments-in-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILT) program. It also would provide an additional $260 million for the Clean Water and Drinking Water state revolving funds.
With regard to wildfires, the measure would provide over $5.2 billion for management and suppression activities. This would be $1.6 billion more than the fiscal year 2019 enacted level and $49 million more than the president’s budget request. The funding also includes a $2.25 billion budget-cap adjustment that would provide additional spending authority to meet suppression costs that exceed the 10-year average.
The fiscal year 2019 Energy-Water spending bill, which funds the Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, and several independent agencies, was favorably reported to the full Appropriations Committee on May 15. The measure would spend $46.4 billion, or $1.8 billion above the fiscal year 2019 enacted level. Notably, the Energy Department would see its budget increase by $1.4 billion, while an extra $82.8 million would be set-aside for the Bureau of Reclamation. In addition, the Army Corps would be in line for an additional $357 million that would help provide for six new construction projects and six new feasibility studies.
House Approves Carcieri Fix
A week after being pulled from the House floor, legislation that would reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s Carcieri v. Salazar decision was approved by the chamber on May 15 by a vote of 323 to 96. Championed by Representative Tom Cole (R-OK), the so-called “clean Carcieri fix” (HR 375) was cleared earlier this month by the House Natural Resources Committee on a 29 to seven vote.
In Carcieri, the Supreme Court determined that the secretary of the Interior’s trust land acquisition authority is limited to those tribes that were “under federal jurisdiction” at the time of the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934. The effect of the landmark ruling was the creation of two classes of Indian tribes: those that can have land taken into trust on their behalf by the U.S. Department of the Interior (pre-1934 tribes) and those that cannot (post-1934 tribes).
Since the Court’s decision, many Indian tribes have demanded that Congress pass a clean Carcieri fix, which would simply reverse the now decade-old ruling. In contrast, county governments – led by CSAC – have urged lawmakers to include comprehensive legislative reforms in the Interior Department’s deeply flawed fee-to-trust process as part of any legislation that addresses Carcieri.
During floor consideration of HR 375, the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT), once again highlighted CSAC’s longstanding calls for Congress to pass legislation providing comprehensive reforms in the Bureau of Indian Affair’s fee-to-trust process. The congressman also included in the record a recent letter that he sent to the chairman of the Natural Resources Committee that discusses CSAC’s trust-reform proposal. Please refer to pages H3813 through H3816 of the Congressional Record for the full transcript of the House debate on the Carcieri fix: Congressional Record – May 15, 2019.
Looking ahead, HR 375 will face very uncertain prospects in the upper chamber. In past years, Senate opposition has thwarted Carcieri clean-fix bills, with various senators echoing CSAC’s calls for the inclusion of provisions that would overhaul the fee-to-trust process. Additionally, a number of senators have attempted to include as part of previous Carcieri legislation controversial amendments to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), further complicating any potential legislative solution.
SCAAP Reauthorization Bill Introduced in the Senate
On May 14, Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ) introduced legislation (S 1470) that would reauthorize the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP). Although Congress has continued to fund SCAAP through the annual appropriations process, the program has been without a formal authorization since fiscal year 2011.
The McSally bill would do the following:
- Reauthorize SCAAP at $950 million annually through fiscal year 2024 (SCAAP is currently funded at $243.5 million).
- Require the Department of Justice to distribute SCAAP funds to eligible jurisdictions within four months of closing the program’s application period in any given fiscal year.
- Expand the allowable uses of SCAAP. Currently, jurisdictions
may only be reimbursed for eligible incarceration costs for
individuals who have been convicted of a felony or two or more
misdemeanors. The bill would allow counties and States to be
reimbursed for the following expenses:
- Incarceration costs for undocumented individuals who have been charged with a felony or two or more misdemeanors.
- Incarceration costs for individuals with an “unknown” (or unverified) immigration status.
- Medical expenses.
CSAC has long supported expanding the allowable uses of SCAAP funds, consistent with S 1470. Looking ahead, it’s unclear whether the McSally bill will receive consideration in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
HUD Issues Proposal to Bar Federal Housing for Some Immigrants
On May 10, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published a proposed rule that, if finalized, would no longer allow legal status families with undocumented or other ineligible relatives living with them to live in public housing. It should be noted that ineligible individuals currently living in those arrangements do not receive any federal subsidy toward the assistance.
Pursuant to the new HUD proposal, all subsidized housing residents (who are not elderly) would be required to have their immigration status verified. If it is determined that an “ineligible” individual resides in the home, the entire family would be evicted from subsidized housing within 18 months. According to HUD estimates, approximately 25,000 households – or about 108,000 people – would lose their housing under this proposal. Of those individuals, 76,000 are legally eligible for benefits, including 55,000 citizen children. CSAC is currently in the process of reviewing the proposal.