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Congress leaves town with funding bills unfinished

House Appropriations Bills include support for LSTA and Title IV, but defund IAL

The twelve FY 2017 appropriations bills continued to progress slowly in the House and Senate as Congress leaves today for a lengthy summer recess. This past week, the House Appropriations Committee marked up (approved) its contentious FY2017 Labor, Health and Human Services, Labor, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill (commonly called “LHHS”), approving the bill 31-19 with the vote splitting along party lines. The Senate approved its version of LHHS last month by a decidedly bipartisan vote of 29-1.

Most important to ALA members, the LHHS funding bill in both chambers includes funding for several programs of significant importance to the library community: LSTA, IAL, and Title IV of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). While the House Committee bill provides increased support for two of our priorities, it also eliminates funding for another.

First, the good news. Both the House and Senate funding bills include increased funding for LSTA and its Grants to States program, rejecting the President’s disappointing proposal to cut funding for both. LSTA Grants to States would receive $155.9 million in the House bill: a slight increase over FY 2016 ($155.7 million), though $240,000 less than what the Senate requested in May ($156.1 million). The President had requested only $154.8 million. Overall LSTA funding would be boosted in the House bill to $183.0 million. That compares with $183.3 in the Senate, $182.4 in the President’s request, and $182.9 ultimately approved by Congress in FY 2016). ALA continues to oppose cuts to LSTA programs.Several piles of gold coins symbolizing government funding.

The House also made slight upward adjustments to three other LSTA programs from FY2016 levels. Native American Library Services grants would receive $4.1 million ($3.8 in Senate and $4.0 in FY2016); the National Leadership: Libraries program received $13.1 million ($13.4 million in Senate and $13.0 in FY 2016); and the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian program received level funding at $10 million.

New this year is a block grant created with bipartisan support under Title IV of ESSA The “Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants” (SSAEG will provide supplemental funding to help states and school districts underwrite a “well-rounded” educational experience for students, including STEM and arts programs. Best of all, libraries are expressly authorized to receive SSAEG funds. Although SSAEG was originally authorized in the ESSA at $1.65 billion, the President and Congress appear willing to fund the program at much lower levels. The President requested only $500 million while the Senate approved less at $300 million. The House approved a higher level of $1 billion but still below authorized levels for FY2017.

Next, the decidedly bad news is that House appropriators have proposed to eliminate all funding for school libraries through the Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) program.. According to the House Committee’s Report, “The Committee has chosen to focus resources on core formula-based education programs instead of narrowly-focused competitive grants such as this one.” IAL received $27 million in FY2016, which was also the funding level requested by the President and supported in the Senate bill. One half of IAL funding is reserved for school libraries with the remaining open to any national non-profit by application.

Likely limiting its chances of passage, however, the House LHHS bill included a number of divisive policy riders addressing issues including highly controversial issues like family planning, NLRB joint employer standards, and “Obamacare”. The bill also includes education-related policy riders addressing the “gainful employment” rule aimed at for-profit colleges, forthcoming teacher preparation rules, and the federal definition of a credit hour. All of the amendments introduced at the full Committee mark up to strike these riders or to restore cuts in education funding failed along party lines.

Congress will return from its recess in September, leaving them only a few weeks to adopt funding measures to keep the government open beyond the October 1 start of the Fiscal Year. That’s unlikely, so Congress probably will be forced to enact a “Continuing Resolution,” or CR, to fund the Government. Under CR rules the previous year’s level of funding is maintained for most programs. Vigorous discussions on the Hill already have begun as to what the length of the CR can and should be. If a CR that extends into the new calendar year is adopted, the new President will be forced to negotiate government-wide spending levels with Congress soon after being sworn in, possibly even before key Cabinet and other budget-related positions are filled.

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Kevin Maher

Kevin Maher is the deputy director of government relations at the American Library Association’s Washington Office. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Before coming to the ALA in 2014, Kevin was the vice president of government affairs for the American Hotel and Lodging Association for 20 years.

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