On September 21, President Trump signed into law a bipartisan minibus spending package consisting of three FY 2019 spending bills: The Energy-Water, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs and Legislative Branch appropriation bills. The president’s signature completes three of 12 spending bills that need to be signed into law for FY 2019. Congress has until the end of the fiscal year – September 30, 2018 – to wrap-up the FY 2019 annual appropriations process or pass a continuing resolution to keep the government open past that date. Another spending bill, recently approved by the U.S. Senate and awaiting action in the U.S. House, includes a continuing resolution to keep the government funded while negotiations continue.
Of importance to counties, the following programs and agencies are funded through the Energy-Water, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs and Legislative Branch bill:
Military Construction – Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill
The Military Construction-Veterans Affairs portion of the bill provides over $86.5 billion in discretionary funding for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), an increase of $5 billion over FY 2018 enacted levels. This funding, which will help ensure the nation’s veterans receive the quality health care services they have earned, is broken down as follows:
- VA Medical Care: $72.3 billion is allocated to the VA to provide health care services, about $5 billion above FY 2018 levels. Of this, $8.6 billion is allocated toward mental health services, $206 million for suicide prevention outreach, $400 million for opioid abuse prevention, $270 million for VA rural health initiatives and $7.5 billion for treatment, housing and other services for homeless veterans.
- Medical Community Care: $9 billion is provided to the Medical Community Care program, which funds non-VA care provided to veterans, family caregiver programs and other services. Specifically, the family caregiver program will receive $865 million in FY 2019. The bill also directs the VA to report to Congress monthly on the costs of the Medical Community Care program compared to available appropriations, and any additional anticipated needs in light of new obligations under the VA MISSION Act. Although funding is included for the coming year, the appropriations package does not fully address a long term funding solution for programs required under the VA MISSION Act of 2018 (PL 115-182). Without adequate long-term funding, non-VA service providers that currently provide care to veterans may shoulder additional costs, or potentially reduce or stop providing services altogether
- Veteran Homelessness: $1.8 billion will be directed to VA’s homeless assistance programs such as the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program, which will receive $380 million.
- Veterans Justice Outreach: This program, which provides access to mental health and substance abuse resources and treatment for justice-involved veterans, will receive over $54 million.
Energy and Water Appropriations Bills
The Energy and Water portion of the bill funds the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civil works program, U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation and several other federal government agencies at a total cost of $44.64 billion for FY 2019. The Energy and Water Appropriations bill is important to counties because it funds federal energy, water and flooding-related infrastructure projects in local communities.
Of importance to counties, the following programs and agencies are addressed in the bill:
- U.S. Department of Energy (DOE): The bill contains $35.7 billion for DOE, $4.9 billion above FY 2018 levels. DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) will see its budget increased by $57 million to $2.4 billion. EERE works to develop and promote clean, affordable and secure energy.
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) civil works program: The Army Corps will see its budget increased by $172 million to $7 billion. The Army Corps is tasked with building, maintaining and operating coastal and inland waterways, addressing flooding risk and strengthening ecosystem restoration through their civil works program. Specific programs of importance of counties include:
- Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF): HMTF will receive $1.55 billion, a $150 million increase above FY 2018 levels.
- Water infrastructure: $2 billion will be allocated towards flood and storm damage reduction activities.
- U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation: The legislation includes $134 million for water storage projects authorized in the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WINN) Act, which is overseen by the Bureau of Reclamation.