New Federal Budget Gives and Takes

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Congress finally finished fiscal 2008 appropriations the day after Christmas, again packing the budget with pet-project presents. But many in the youth field saw the overall youth budget, wrapped into a massive consolidated spending package, as a lump of coal.

For the politically well-connected, however, earmarks went up, as the practice has come back with a vengeance after many earmarks were suspended for two years. (See “Pork Comes Flying Back,” September.)

 Chart: Federal Youth Budget 2008 and Earmarks

Based on Youth Today’s analysis of the omnibus appropriations bill, it appears that rules intended to provide a more selective approach to earmark approval did little to rein in the number of pork projects going to youth-serving organizations. There are at least 1,098 earmarks designated for youth-serving organizations and projects, totaling more than $515 million.

That’s less than the 1,363 projects counted in 2005 (the last year that appropriations for youth were fully earmarked), but far more than the 951 in 2004 and the 844 in 2003.

However, the $515 million earmark total is $57 million less than in 2004 and $107 million less than in 2003.

How was this feat – more earmarks, less money – achieved? By doling out smaller amounts to more recipients. Sixty percent of the 2008 earmarks are for $250,000 or less, with one-quarter of them at less than $100,000. In 2005, in contrast, 74 percent of the money for youth projects was spent on earmarks of $500,000 or more.

Here’s a roundup of some budget figures and the reaction from the youth-services field:


Let’s start with the positives: The increase in the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CLC) program to $1.08 billion – from $981 million last year and after flat funding for the past six years – was “long overdue and most welcome,” according to the Afterschool Alliance.

The advocacy organization said the increase should help programs reach 100,000 more youths. The group still wants the full $2.5 billion authorized for CLC programs in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.

Compared with many other Education Department line items, however, the after-school funding increase was anomalous.

The department’s Safe and Drug-Free Schools (SDFS) state grant program, cut from more than $346 million in fiscal 2007 to just under $300 million this year, could be a casualty of the test-score and academics-centric NCLB and, perhaps, of national reports that youth drug use is down. The program “has a target on its back,” said Tom Zembar, senior policy analyst for the National Education Association.

The dip in support for SDFS state funds – which topped nearly $440 million in fiscal 2001 – has occurred as education budget priorities shifted to programs that help localities meet student achievement mandates under NCLB.

“Clearly, it’s a program that’s been around for a number of years and I think it’s lost a little bit of interest overall by the Congress,” Zembar said.

Increasing overall appropriations is “difficult when you have two different parties” in the White House and the Congress, he said. “As long as you have that … it’s going to be difficult to see substantial investments in education. … We’re going to be fighting over crumbs.”

Health and Human Services

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) budget for child welfare and other youth-related services is also largely stagnant, with a few exceptions.

One is the Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY) program, upped by $10.3 million to $113 million in 2008 – the first time since fiscal 2003 that RHY was given such a “healthy” increase, said Bob Reeg, public policy director for the National Network for Youth.

Reeg said he hoped “an appropriate mix” of new funds is given to boost allocations to current grantees and to start new Basic Centers, Transitional Living and Street Outreach programs, which shelter youth in vulnerable situations.

“It’s the only good thing they did in this budget” for child welfare, said John Sciamanna, co-director of government affairs at the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA).

CWLA estimated that the child welfare discretionary budget, which includes programs ranging from mentoring children of prisoners to adoption incentives, was cut by around $24 million compared with last year. “It’s a warped set of priorities that we hope will change,” Sciamanna said.

Elsewhere in HHS:

• The Democratic Congress dinged President Bush’s Compassion Capital Fund by about $11.7 million. It remains at nearly $53 million for faith-based initiatives, including at-risk youth programs.

• Bush’s abstinence education initiatives were level-funded.

• Mental health discretionary programs within the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) were increased by $36 million, while the mental health block grant was cut by $7 million. Overall SAMHSA funding went up by just under $30 million. (SAMHSA’s discretionary accounts for mental health and substance abuse prevention and treatment are heavily earmarked.)

• The Community Services Block Grant – community-based grants for employment, education, income management, housing, nutrition, emergency services and health – increased by nearly $24 million, to $653.8 million.

Juvenile Justice

Overall, funding increased by $40 million, to $383.5 million, although dollar amounts shifted among the various categories.

Formula grants from the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention dropped to $74.3 million from $80 million last year and from highs of nearly $90 million earlier this decade. Other accounts were trimmed as well, including Title V prevention grants, even as a youth mentoring program rose to $70 million, from $10 million last year.

Nearly $94 million is set aside for lawmakers’ pet projects, as is the bulk of Title V. “We would much rather see many fewer of these earmarks, but to have the dollars [remain] there for the intended purpose, which is laid out in the [juvenile justice] act,” said Tim Briceland-Betts, co-director of government affairs at CWLA.

Other areas

• National Service – The Foster Grandparents program took a nearly $2 million hit to $108.9 million. National and Community Service programs were trimmed by more than $17 million overall.

• YouthBuild – The skills-training program for high-risk youth received an increase long sought by advocates, to nearly $59 million from less than $50 million in fiscal 2007.

• Youth Training – Other Labor Department youth training programs fared less well. The youth-related Workforce Investment Act account was trimmed by more than $16 million, to $924 million.