Federal Legislative Update – June 1, 2011
Head Start Funding
As you are well aware by now, Head Start received a $330 million increase as part of the 2011 budget agreement. These funds enabled programs in Washington State to avoid reducing enrollment. However, just as soon as the community began to celebrate, Congress began working on a budget for 2012 which would threaten these recent gains and then some. The House Appropriations Committee, for example, just set the allocations for all of its subcommittees. Labor HHS—the subcommittee that deals with Head Start funding and child care, is slated to be cut by $30 billion below current funding levels. While the Labor HHS subcommittee is not expected to take up our funding until the middle of July you don’t have to do much figuring to come to the conclusion that big cuts are planned to Head Start in the House.
2012 Budget Negotiations
Meanwhile, the normal appropriations process is being overshadowed by a considerable amount of posturing in regards to the debt ceiling. Already the House has voted not to increase the debt ceiling which is at $14 trillion. House leaders want to see large spending reductions tied to any increase in the debt ceiling. Behind closed doors key House and Senate leaders are meeting with Vice-President Biden to come up with a deal on spending cuts. Republicans have said that tax increases are off the table and Democrats have said that major cuts to Social Security and Medicare are off the table. Latest media reports suggest that cuts may come from farm subsidies and federal workers among others.
As you know the vast majority of the children and families served in Head Start and ECEAP are also enrolled in our state’s Medicaid program. The Coalition on Human Needs did a nice summary of the issues raised by the Ryan plan:
The House-passed Budget (also referred to as the Ryan plan, named after Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI)) and the budget offered by Senator Patrick Toomey (R-PA) both block-grant Medicaid, cutting the program by $771 billion and $1.1 trillion respectively over 10 years. Under a block grant the federal government would pay only a fixed dollar amount of the state’s Medicaid cost, with the state responsible for all costs that exceed that amount. Block grant proposals typically give states more flexibility over programs. In the case of Medicaid, states would likely be able to cap enrollment, substantially scale back eligibility and coverage and raise the out-of-pocket costs of beneficiaries.
Block-granting Medicaid would be particularly problematic in times of economic downturns when federal spending would not increase to respond to the growing needs. Limiting funding to a fixed dollar amount as a block grant does also restricts the ability of Medicaid to cover higher health care costs resulting from new medical treatments or a new epidemic.
Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge
Last week the Obama Administration announced the creation of the Early Learning Challenge program funded out of the 2011 budget agreement. In the agreement Congress specified that the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services must jointly administer the early learning funds and outlined three required criteria. To win a portion of the $500 million, states must:
- Increase the number and percentage of low-income and disadvantaged infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who are enrolled in high-quality early learning programs;
- Design and implement an integrated system of high-quality early learning programs and services; and
- Ensure that any use of assessments is consistent with the recommendations of the National Research Council’s reports on early childhood.
Funds will go directly to states and the application framework is expected to look similar to the Race to the Top application. ED and HHS are aiming to give states enough time (at least six weeks) to submit thoughtful, high-quality applications. The areas that states will be required to show progress in or to develop plans to address are still undefined. In light of the short turnaround time the Departments were granted a waiver to hold an official public comment period, and instead are asking stakeholders to weigh in with their suggestions, ideas and comments on the Race to the Top-Early Learning blog post.
Officials divulged no information on how many winners they expected to name, nor how the money would be divvied up. By law, the money must be awarded by December 31. A notice inviting applications will be posted by the federal government by the end of the summer.