From The Hill: Funding the Federal Budget

Welcome back to From the Hill, your bi-monthly update on all things Washington, DC. This month’s edition focuses on the process to fund the federal government called appropriations.

What in the world is appropriations?

Congress is currently in the middle of deciding how to fund our federal government. This process is called ‘appropriations’. This includes funding everything from the US Postal Service to international food aid. The appropriations process is where Congress puts its “money where its mouth is” in terms of how they want the federal government to function.

Here’s how it works:

  • The federal government must pass a budget of some kind every year before September 31, which is the end of the fiscal year. If they fail to pass a budget the government shuts down until one is agreed upon.
  • On May 23, the president released his blueprint for how he wants the federal government to be funded.
  • Congress then takes this budget into consideration as it begins to developing its own budget proposal. This includes holding hearings during which the head of each government agency (for example: Department of State, Department of Agriculture, etc) testifies as to why they are asking for the amount of money they would like.
  • After hearing from the heads of agencies and debating the levels of funding, Congress produces its own federal budget proposal. They then vote on this proposal, ideally before the September 31 deadline.
  • This new budget will then determine the work of the federal agencies for the coming fiscal year.

Why do we care about appropriations?

The federal budget is essentially a moral document. Our faith calls us to ensure the just allocation of resources for the common good. The federal budget is a reflection of the values and priorities we hold as a nation. This is why we are very concerned about the current funding proposals, which dramatically cut the amount of money allocated to programs that benefit the poor and increase the amount of money for programs that would harm them.

Appropriations and Columban Issues:

Migration:

Back in January, the president signed multiple executive orders (refresh your memory with our statement here) which would increase the detention of migrants, separate families, and expand border enforcement. While parts of these orders have already begun, they need money to be implemented fully.

The president’s proposed budget requests an additional $4.5 billion for the expansion of immigration enforcement, which is a 23% increase over enforcement spending in 2016. This money would go towards detaining more migrants, increasing the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) & Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, and beginning construction of a physical wall at the southern border.

Our work with migrant communities across the globe tells us that this plan to increase the enforcement and mass detention of migrants is inhumane and violates our call to welcome. Congress now has the ability to decide whether they want to carry out this plan of endless enforcement or whether they will instead invest in long term, humane solutions.

Environmental Justice:

In addition to increased money for immigration enforcement, the president’s budget request increases funding for defense spending across the board. These increases in defense and enforcement come at the expense of many crucial programs, including those aimed at protecting our environment.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the agency tasked with protecting human health and the environment, is facing a 31% cut to its programs. In addition, the Department of State, the agency tasked with leading our international relations and foreign policy, faces a 29% budget cut.

These two agencies implement multiple programs that protect our environment and address climate change. For example, the Department of State oversees the United States’ contributions to the Green Climate Fund, a program which supports the efforts of developing nations to reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change. This contribution has been eliminated in the president’s budget request.

Given the administration’s recent decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement (read our statement in response here), this would be another impediment to our country’s efforts to address climate change, both at home and abroad. It is crucial that Congress protects funding that aims to reduce our contributions to climate change and protect those populations who are most vulnerable to its effects.

So what now?

Now we advocate!  Watch out for our action alerts for ways to urge Congress to fund the government in ways that are in line with our values as people of faith. Although the deadline is not until September 31, our voices are needed now as Congress makes crucial funding decisions.