Politics at Play: What the FY2011 Budget & Appropriations Mean for Grantseekers
Saturday, January 15, 2011
The Federal budget process commences once the President submits his budget for the coming Fiscal Year (FY) in early-February. For example, in February of 2011, the President will submit his budget proposal for FY2012, which begins October 1, 2011. Although this proposal is not binding and has no actual affect on fiscal policy, it is an important starting point for budget negotiations and provides insight into the administration's priorities.
The budget is then scored by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which is the nonpartisan budgetary authority for Congress that estimates the costs and benefits for each piece of legislation. Once these two pieces are available, the House and Senate Budget Committees begin work on the Federal Budget. The traditional deadline for an official Budget Resolution from Congress is April 15.
The next sequential step involves the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, which set specific funding levels for the various programs and activities of the Federal Government. Typically, twelve appropriations bills are considered each year and, after going through Committee, must be passed by both the House and Senate before the President can sign them into law.
In 2010, this process was never realized as other legislative priorities and partisan gridlock prevented action in passing the annual Budget Resolution and appropriations bills. The most recent effort to pass a $1.2 trillion omnibus spending bill, an appropriations bill that combines multiple appropriations bills into one, failed after Republicans announced new objections to the inclusion of billions in earmark funding (albeit billions they themselves had a part in requesting). Instead, Congress passed its third Continuing Resolution (CR) of the year, which is a short-term spending bill that authorizes the government to continue spending at the previous year's levels. With the CR due to expire in March, the 112th Congress will be charged with tending to the 111th' Congress's unfinished business by passing either individual appropriations bills, an omnibus appropriations bill, or a final Continuing Resolution to extend funding to FY2012.
Deciphering exactly what this means for grantseekers isn't exactly clear, as besides being local, politics is also very messy. However, there are some key points that will result as a failure of the 111th Congress to pass annual Federal funding.
Firstly, Recovery Act programs that may have had support for continuation under normal Fiscal Year funding appear unlikely to be revived in the short-term. For example, the most recent iteration of the omnibus appropriations bill included $550 million for the Recovery Act-funded education reform grant program, Race to the Top. This amount was already well below the $1.2 billion sought by the Obama administration and now its prospects are even bleaker. Because the CR was passed instead, Race to the Top receives no funding as it was not a part of regular FY2010 appropriations. This further increases the likelihood the program will not be reconstituted, despite its success in inspiring reforms at the state level.
Secondly, any new grant programs authorized under other legislation will not receive the funds to put them into action. The most prominent example of this is the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known more commonly as Health Care Reform. The ACA contained authorizations for more grant programs than any other piece of legislation passed by the 111th Congress. With a sweeping majority in the House and emboldened minority in the Senate, Republicans have already talked of gutting the ACA by refusing to fund its implementation if they cannot outright repeal it.
For now, grantseekers should anticipate the ability to apply for the annual programs that have a long history of support. Popular examples include the Justice Assistance Grants (JAG), Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG), and Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT). It is more likely that we see these programs maintained in future appropriations and the newest program facing cuts or elimination. Grantseekers should also be aware that as new grant solicitations are announced, they will likely not be able to provide concrete estimates of funds available - making it crucial you develop a comprehensive grant strategy for 2011.