The National Association of Counties has released a comprehensive analysis of the FY 2017 Omnibus Appropriations package and its impact on programs important to America's counties.
In recent years, as partisan battles over federal spending have intensified, Congress has been unable to enact stand-alone appropriations bills through the regular appropriations process.
Instead, Congress has started to rely more heavily on year-end omnibus appropriations measures (that combine some or all the 12 annual spending bills) or continuing resolutions (which fund federal government programs and agencies at prior-year spending levels) to finalize process the annual process.
This year was no different, with Congress having to pass two separate short-term continuing resolutions before they were able to finalize the annual appropriations process.
On May 1, just days before the second continuing resolution that was keeping the federal government operating was about to expire on May 5, House and Senate appropriators released the text of a $1.163 trillion, 1,665-page omnibus spending package (H.R. 244) that would fund the federal government through the remainder of FY 2017.
$1.07 trillion of these funds are considered “base spending” funds, while the remaining $93.5 billion was included for Overseas Contingency Operations and Global War on Terror funding. OCO funding does not count against statutory budget caps.
The spending plan combines the remaining eleven FY 2017 appropriations bills into one large measure and would provide a slight increase in overall spending from FY 2016 levels, while keeping base discretionary funding roughly equal. The base spending included in the appropriations package adheres to the topline spending caps agreed to by Congress in 2015.
Why does the federal appropriations process matter to counties? The nation’s 3,069 counties play a key role in administering federal programs and services at the local level. When the federal government does not finalize the appropriations process but instead uses one or multiple short-term extensions through continuing resolutions, counties are unable to effectively plan and implement their budgets.
Under the omnibus, most programs important to counties fared very well.
For example, many U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development and water programs received funding above or equal to FY 2016 levels. Water and Waste Disposal Programs, the Rural Community Facilities program and Rural Development Grants all receive slight increases under the omnibus.
Programs under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also generally fared well under the FY 2017 omnibus. The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program receives level funding at $3 billion compared to FY 2016, while the HOME Investment Partnerships (HOME) program also receives level funding at $950 million.
Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) takes a small cut under the omnibus, most programs important to counties received level funding. For example, the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF), grants to assist with water quality improvements, receive level funding under the omnibus package, as do regional water grant programs and the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Program.
Certain health programs, including the Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF) and those to address the nation’s mental health crisis, also fare quite well under the spending package. PPHF, the first dedicated funding stream that was established out of the Affordable Care Act to support community prevention efforts, is fully funded at $1 billion. Efforts to combat the opioid epidemic receive $800 million, a more than five-fold increase over FY 2016.
In addition to increased funding for opioids, the omnibus provides level funding, at $1.9 billion, for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant, $30 million in increased funding for SAMHSA’s Community Mental Health Services Block Grant, for a total of $541.5 million, and an additional $50 million for mental health divided between SAMHSA and the Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA).
Human Services programs are largely level funded under the FY 2017 omnibus. The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), for example, receives level funding of $3.39 billion compared to FY 2016. The Community Services Block Grant, a NACo-supported program, does receive a small cut of $9 million and will be funded at $742 million for FY 2017. The Head Start program, funded at $9.25 billion through the omnibus, receives an increase of $8.2 million.
State and local homeland security grants, such as those administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), are also spared from major cuts. The State Homeland Security Grant Program ($467 million) and FEMA grants ($2.7 billion) both receive level funding. FEMA Mitigation Program funding, on the other hand, is increased by $600 million to help provide disaster relief to local communities.
Programs of interest to counties under the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), such as the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) and Second Chance Act grants, are level-funded at $210 million and $68 million, respectively. SCAAP reimburses states and local governments for the cost of incarcerating undocumented immigrants convicted of certain crimes. Second Chance Act grants help to reduce recidivism by improving individuals’ reintegration into the community after release from incarceration.
County public lands priorities were also addressed in the omnibus, though the bill did not include a reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program. The Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program will be fully funded in FY 2017, receiving $465 million in the omnibus package. This is an increase of $15 million over FY 2016. Further, the omnibus fully funds the 10-year average cost for wildland fire suppression for both the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service. These accounts are funded at $4.2 billion with $407 million in emergency funding.
Under Transportation, the omnibus maintains critical programs such as the Essential Air Service and TIGER Grant programs, providing level funding for each. Both had been scheduled for elimination under President Trump’s “skinny budget”. The bill also allows $44 billion from the Highway Trust Fund to be used for federal-aid highways. This represents a $905 million increase over FY 2016.
Moving forward, NACo will continue to educate Congress and the administration on the important role counties play in our nation’s intergovernmental system and ensure that the needs and interests of counties are represented as lawmakers implement the FY 2017 spending package and begin the FY 2018 appropriations process.
Resources: Click here to read NACo's full analysis