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Mental and behavioral health

Congress funds government through Dec. 11, averting shutdown

Congress delays contentious funding decisions until after the election; House Democrats ready revised stimulus bill for consideration.

CITE THIS
Sharpe, A. (2020, October 5). Congress funds government through Dec. 11, averting shutdown. http://www.apaservices.org/advocacy/news/federal-government-shutdown
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Although the new fiscal year began on Oct. 1, 2020, none of the 12 annual appropriations bills funding the federal government have become law.  With little time to spare, however, Congress passed, and the president signed the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act (H.R. 8337), providing short-term fiscal year (FY) 2021 funding for federal programs at the FY 2020 funding level until Dec. 11, 2020. The continuing resolution (CR) pushes anticipated contentious funding discussions into the 116th Congress lame-duck session. Congress will need to pass a second CR in December or complete the appropriations process to provide the remaining FY 2021 funding for federally supported programs. 

APA continues to urge Congress to complete the annual appropriations process to avoid disruptions in research and critical public health services. In a letter to Congress before the passage of the CR, APA joined the Coalition for Health Funding (CHF), an alliance of 92 nonprofit organizations, in urging Congress to work together to pass the FY 2021 appropriations bills as soon as possible to avoid a second CR, emphasizing the fiscal uncertainty CRs generate for public health agencies.  The letter further underscored that CRs, 

"especially those that last for several months, harm public health, research, and disability programs, as well as other domestic programs funded through the annual appropriations process. Normalizing and relying on long-term CRs creates dysfunction and disruption across the entire public health continuum. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the serious consequences of chronic underfunding of the public health infrastructure, which requires sustained increases through regular appropriations."  

While providing level funding for most federal agencies, the CR adds nearly $8 billion in "vital nutrition assistance" and extends and expands the resources to families with children who otherwise would have received free or reduced-price meals at school. It also provides additional flexibility for nutrition programs. It continues the funding available for National Institutes of Health multi-year grants interrupted in FY 2020 by COVID-19 that would have expired at the end of the fiscal year. The CR also provides $122 million in additional FY 2020 funding to the Census Bureau and allows the agency to spend these funds at a faster rate through the duration of the agreement, thereby granting additional flexibility if it is needed.

APA and the broader scientific and public health communities continue to stress to Congress how critical it is to pass the 12 annual appropriations bills and include additional emergency funds for these programs in the next stimulus bill. 

House Approves revised COVID-19 stimulus legislation

The House approved a revised version of their HEROES Act (PDF, 4MB) on Oct. 1. The new $2.2 trillion bill addresses needs identified since the bill passed in May, which would have provided $3.4 trillion in coronavirus relief. The modified bill also incorporates negotiations between Congress and the Trump administration.

Among the bill’s many provisions, the modified bill preserves health coverage for individuals losing employer-provided health insurance, restores the weekly $600 federal unemployment benefits through January 2021, and provides another round of stimulus payments. It also provides new resources to ensure safe elections, secure an accurate Census, and preserve the U.S. Postal Service. 

The amended bill includes a notable increase for the National Science Foundation—$2.9 billion, including $2.6 billion (the original bill included only $125 million) for Research and Related Activities and $300 million for Education and Human Resources to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus. It provides funding to extend existing research grants, cooperative agreements, scholarships, fellowships, and apprenticeships. The bill also provides $1 million for a study on the spread of COVID-19 related disinformation. 

The bill provides $4.7 billion to the National Institutes of Health to expand COVID-19-related research and support the shutdown and startup costs associated with biomedical research laboratories. This sum provides up to $1.021 billion in funding for additional scientific research or the programs and platforms that support research. 

The original HEROES Act, H.R 688, did not include any additional appropriations for the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). The modified bill provides $338 million for the Veterans Benefits Administration ($198 million for improving education benefits, such as the GI Bill); $100 million for the Veterans Health Administration specifically for State Veterans Homes to handle the COVID-19 pandemic better; and $45 million for VA’s Information Technology supporting the GI Bill. The modified bill also includes emergency paid sick leave for VA and Transportation Security Administration employees not included in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act

For the Violence Against Women Prevention and Prosecution Programs, the bill provides $375 million (the original measure provided only $100 million).  

For the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the modified bill provides $3.5 billion, a $2 billion increase, for the Substance Abuse Prevention & Treatment block grant and $4 billion, a $3 billion increase, for the community mental health services block grant. The bill also includes $600 million for the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic Expansion Grant program, not in the original legislation. 

The revised bill preserves the $25 million for the Suicide Lifeline and Disaster Distress Helpline. It maintains not less than $150 million for tribes, tribal organizations, urban Indian health organizations, or health service providers to tribes across various programs. The bill, however, reduces the amount available for emergency response grants to address immediate behavioral health needs resulting from COVID-19 to $240 million, a $25 million reduction. 

The legislation also doubles the original funding for education programs to $225 billion, including $182 billion for K-12 schools, $39 billion for higher education and $12 billion to extend broadband connectivity for remote learning.

The text of the House bill is available online (PDF, 4.45MB).

An overview of the changes included in the updated language is also available online (PDF, 650KB).

The Senate Republican leadership has indicated that it will not support a relief package beyond $1.5 trillion.

For more information, contact Angela Sharpe, MG.