Update from Washington, D.C.
House Appropriators Advance Fiscal Year 2021 Spending Bills
Although both the House and Senate are on recess until July 20, House leaders set aside this week and next week for key committee business. This week’s most significant action took place in the Appropriations Committee, where all 12 subcommittees met to mark up their respective fiscal year (FY) 2021 spending bills.
On July 9, the full committee formally approved the 302(b) allocations, which establish the discretionary funding levels for each subcommittee. House Democrats have put forward a proposal that would provide $1.3 trillion in base discretionary funding, as well as an additional $247.4 billion in emergency spending that would not count against the statutory spending limits laid out in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 (PL 116-37). It should be noted that the plan also includes more than $76 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funds, which are also exempt from the spending caps.
For their part, GOP lawmakers have collectively balked at House Democrats’ approach to the FY 2021 spending process, particularly in light of a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office which found that the federal budget deficit in June was $863 billion. By comparison, the federal government ran an $8 billion deficit last June. Democrats, however, have argued that additional funding is necessary to recover from the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition to the 302(b) allocations, the panel also advanced its FY 2021 spending bills for State and Foreign Operations, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, and Agriculture. The full committee will meet on July 10 to consider the Interior-Environment and Legislative Branch funding bills, with the rest of the measures scheduled for action next week.
Across Capitol Hill, Senate appropriators have no immediate plans to begin their markups. At this stage, it’s increasingly likely that a Continuing Resolution (CR) will be needed before current funding for federal departments and agencies expires on September 30. In fact, Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) has acknowledged that a CR that extends funding into late November or early December is almost a certainty.
On July 9, the House Appropriations Committee voted along party lines to approve the FY 2021 Agriculture-Rural Development spending bill. The legislation provides nearly $24 billion in discretionary funding for programs within the purview of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration, and related agencies. The proposed spending level represents an increase of $487 million above the fiscal year 2020 enacted level. In total, the bill allows for $153 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding, which is $331 million above current spending levels.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)/CalFresh
The bill includes language that would block two recent USDA rules regarding the SNAP program. One proposal – the Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWD) rule – would severely restrict the ability of states to request and receive waivers to provide SNAP/CalFresh benefits to single individuals in high unemployment areas for more than 90 days in any three-year period. Meanwhile, the Standard Utility Allowance (SUA) rule would limit a state’s ability to account for the costs of utilities when calculating SNAP household benefits. In addition to these proposed changes, the measure strongly encourages USDA to withdraw its Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility rule (BBCE), which would eliminate the long-standing use of categorical eligibility to streamline the process for determining eligibility for SNAP/CalFresh. It’s estimated that these three rules could result in the removal of nearly 4 million people from SNAP.
Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
The bill proposes $5.75 billion for the WIC program, which represents a $250 million reduction from the FY 2020 enacted level. Data shows that WIC participation rates have decreased steadily since FY 2010. In addition, USDA is estimating WIC recovery and carryover funds to be higher than average. Furthermore, the Secretary has a WIC contingency reserve fund as a safety net to meet unexpected demand. With lower participation rates, higher carryover funds, and a contingency reserve fund, the proposed funding would continue to ensure that all eligible participants will be served.
Emissions Reduction Plan
The measure encourages USDA to consider the effects of climate change in its activities and directs the agency to provide a report outlining its plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The committee report that accompanies the legislation acknowledges the difficulty farmers have faced in trying to control the legal tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content of their hemp. In an attempt to gather additional information on the extent of the problem, the measure directs USDA to provide a report detailing the number of acres of hemp that have been destroyed for exceeding the legal limit, the number of producers found to have been negligent, and the total number of producers whose hemp has been tested for THC. In addition, the committee report encourages USDA to ensure that industrial hemp is eligible for all competitive Rural Development grant programs.
On July 10, House appropriators are set to consider the FY 2021 Interior-Environment spending bill. All told, the legislation would provide nearly $36.8 billion for programs administered by the Department of the Interior (excluding the Bureau of Reclamation), the U.S. Forest Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, and a number of related agencies. The proposed funding represents an increase of $771 million above the FY 2020 enacted level, and $5.1 billion more than the president’s budget request. It should be noted that the measure includes $15 billion in emergency supplemental appropriations for investments in critical infrastructure, as well as an additional $2.35 billion provided under the fire suppression cap adjustment.
The legislation would provide full funding for the Payments-in-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILT) program.
Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)
The bill does not include discretionary funding for the LWCF. Instead, appropriators anticipate that legislation – the Great American Outdoors Act – will soon be approved by Congress. Pursuant to the bill, LWCF would shift to mandatory spending. As a result, $900 million per year will be available for the program without the need for annual appropriations.
Wildland Fire Management
The bill provides more than $5.7 billion for wildfire management and suppression activities. It should be noted that this figure includes a $2.35 billion budget cap adjustment – created by the FY 2018 omnibus spending law (PL 115-141) – that would provide additional spending authority to meet suppression costs that exceed the 10-year average. The total funding is approximately $174 million above the FY 2020 enacted level.
State and Tribal Assistance Grants (STAG)
EPA’s STAG program provides grants to local governments for projects that improve air quality, water quality, or clean up contaminated sites, among other things. The House Interior-Environment bill would provide nearly $4.4 billion for the account, which is approximately $116 million above current levels and $1.5 billion more than the president’s request.
Additional Infrastructure Investments
The legislation provides $15 billion in emergency infrastructure investments, including $10.2 billion for Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds; $950 million for targeted water infrastructure grants for lead pipe replacement, sewer overflow control, and for small and disadvantaged communities; $350 million for Brownfields grants; and, $450 million for Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) grants.