First in Your Hearts, But Last Where It Counts: Further Analysis on Spending for Social Programs

As Congress moves forward to provide funding for all federal activities, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have released their proposed allocations to the 12 subcommittees, who will then use those top-line numbers to delineate program-specific funding levels. Due to steps farther along in the budgeting process, these top-line subcommittee allocations almost never represent the reality, but they do provide insight into the political and advocacy landscape.

In the Senate and House, growth in U.S. Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services, and Education (Labor-H) funding from 2007-2013 has lagged behind the growth in the overall budget during the same period. This means that Labor-H’s overall share of funding has dropped relative to its level in 2007. Senate funding proposals have been fairly stable, but House funding has been particularly erratic. Proposals since fiscal year 2012 have begun a trend of steep, double-digit cuts in Labor-H allocations. Comparatively, the funding pattern for Defense in the House and Senate, outpaced the growth of the overall budget from 2007-2013. The net result is that Labor-H programs have been consistently receiving smaller pieces of the overall budgetary pie in both chambers of Congress. The House subcommittee allocations for 2014 only continue the downward trajectory with a 20% cut for Labor-H, even though the overall budget only decreases about 6% from the 2013 proposals.

The big picture highlights the low priority of Labor-H programming by suggesting that when the budget grows, Labor-H doesn’t grow as fast, and when the budget shrinks, Labor-H shrinks faster.  In fact, the only programs that gained ground and received a greater fraction of the allocations in both the House and Senate were Defense, Homeland Security, Military Construction, and Veterans’ Affairs. People may attribute the massive growth in Defense to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but much of the money for those wars was earmarked as overseas contingencies. Combine that with the present political climate and it is virtually impossible that any reduced spending from troop withdrawals will be reallocated to Labor-H programming.

2010 and 2011 were the only years when growth in proposed Labor-H funding outpaced total budget growth. There are a few reasons for this anomaly. Much of the gain probably can be attributed to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, enacted in 2009, which provided additional funding to programs within the Labor-H umbrella. Another, more indirect, cause of the growth could be the increased organizational power and influence of young people and youth groups after their pivotal role in getting President Obama elected. Whatever the reason, the boost in funding was short-lived. During 2011, when the partisan spotlight was on the budget, Labor-H funding was dramatically cut by the House.

The fluctuations within House subcommittee allocations over the past few years may be explained by the changes in the party composition of the House after 2010, affecting all years after fiscal year 2011. In contrast, consistency of the Senate majority could contribute to the relative stability of the Senate appropriations for Labor-H.

The situation for future Labor-H funding does not look very optimistic. The House continues to propose enormous cuts to funding to reduce the deficit, and likely will not shift in party control in 2014 due to the economic recovery. The class of Senators running for reelection in 2014 was the same class that was elected before Labor-H allocation growth reached its zenith, so it isn’t likely they will be replaced by anyone friendlier to Labor-H funding.