The Senate Subcommittee on Appropriations for Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and Related Agencies just approved a funding plan for those agencies in Fiscal Year 2014. The full Committee will consider the bill tomorrow.

During the Subcommittee’s consideration of the bill, Senators voiced their appreciation of the bipartisan effort and conversations leading up to the bill. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Chair of the Subcommittee, expressed her commitment to get the bill on the Senate floor saying “If we move this bill, America and the people who live in it will be in a better place.”  Senator Mikulski explained that the appropriations bill laid the groundwork for expanding opportunity in America through empowering students, investing in education and getting people to work in the 21st century.

We agree. The bill not only rejects the painful cuts from sequestration—it provides additional funding in several key areas, especially early childhood education. Here are seven reasons we were dancing in our offices when we saw the details of the Senate Subcommittee’s FY 2014 Labor, Health and Human Services Education and Related Agencies appropriations bill:

  1. Early Childhood Education: A $1.43 billion increase for Head Start, including Early Head Start – Child Care Partnerships, plus a $171 million increase for existing Head Start and Early Head Start programs; a $176 million increase for the Child Care and Development Block Grants, including $110 million for new quality improvement grants and $66 million for child care assistance as well as $750 million for Preschool Development Grants.
  2. Implementing the Affordable Care Act (ACA): $5.2 billion to the Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services to implement the Affordable Care Act, an increase from $3.9 billion in FY 2013.  The ACA will help nearly 30 million Americans, including nearly 15 million women, to access high-quality, affordable health insurance.
  3. Mental Health: $40 million for Project AWARE State grants, which will focus on making schools safer and connecting young people with mental health services, and $40 million in new funding to address shortages in the behavioral health workforce.
  4. Job Training: $2.7 billion (an increase of $86 million) for Workforce Investment Act Grants to States to provide job training skills and assistance to low-skilled adults, dislocated workers, and low-income youth with barriers to employment.
  5. Paid Leave for Workers: $5 million to support a new State Paid Leave Fund which will provide planning and implementation grants to states that wish to establish paid leave programs and provide benefits to workers who need to take time off for reasons covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
  6. Education for Children with Special Needs and Low-Income Children:  For students with disabilities, $11.7 billion (an increase of $125 million) under section 611 of Part B Grants and $463 million (an increase of $21 million) to support statewide systems of coordinated and early intervention services for children with disabilities 2 years old and younger, as well as their families; and nearly $70 million (an increase of $20 million) to support research on how people with disabilities learn and how best to meet their educational needs.  For children in low-income families,$14.6 billion (an increase of $125 million) for Title I grants to school districts. These funds support 90 percent of the nation’s 14,000 school districts.
  7. Social Security Administration (SSA): Nearly $12 billion, an increase of $534 million, to enable SSA to help meet the demands of a growing caseload of more than 65 million beneficiaries (mostly women) each year.  It includes a $441 million increase for program integrity activities and a $93 million increase in core administrative functions.

True, most of the added investments are modest, especially coming after years of freezes or cuts.  This bill complies with the overall funding levels set out in the Senate Budget Resolution, which were reduced by the Budget Control Act even without additional cuts from sequestration. But the bill provides a dramatic contrast to the direction the House is moving.

Since the House of Representatives has yet to mark up its Labor-HHS-Ed appropriations bill allocating funds to specific programs, it is impossible to make a detailed comparison between the House and the Senate versions. Yet, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) pointed out in a recent analysis of the two plans, the total House allocation for Labor, HHS, and Education programs is $42.5 billion less than the Senate’s:  a difference of 25.9 percent.  The reason is that the House not only keeps the sequestration cuts; as CBPP explains, “In an attempt to protect defense and related programs yet keep total discretionary funding at the post-sequestration level, the House plan cuts other domestic programs even more deeply than sequestration does.”  In fact, the House allocations are less than the Senate allocations for all 12 subcommittees (even the Defense and Homeland Security subcommittees get less, but for them, the differences between the House and Senate are less than one percent). 

If the House attempts to draft its own Labor-HHS-Ed bill, Representatives may find that it’s easier to call for massive cuts in general, or for automatic cuts through sequestration, than to identify specific programs to be slashed.  We hope that the House can have the same bipartisan conversations that the Senate did and rethink their allocations in order to move forward on crucial investments that will strengthen America today and for future generations.