Appropriations bills await Congress post-election

Be honest. With the elections next week did you think it was almost safe to ignore Washington politics until next year? Well, here are more than 200 million reasons to convince you otherwise: LSTA, IAL and Title IV funding.

Here is why you should care: after nearly a year of work on 12 appropriations bills, Congress has finished a total of one bill and will need “extra innings” (sorry Indians fans) to complete the other 11 funding bills, one of which includes significant support for libraries. Congress could not complete the appropriations bills before an October 1st deadline.  That necessitated passage of a temporary Continuing Resolution, or CR, that funded all government programs, including LSTA and IAL, at the previous year’s level to avoid a government shut down. The CR expires on December 9, however, so by then Congress must either pass (and the President sign) 11 bills, enact another CR, or shut the government down.

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By Philip Taylor

Congress will return on November 14 to begin work on appropriations bills and other unfinished legislation. The elections may affect the mood in Washington but will not change the players working on these bills; the work must be done — and a deal reached — by the current Republican controlled House and Senate and President Obama.

Early discussions by House and Senate Republican leaders intended to ease the appropriations work raised concerns for the education funding community. Leaders have reportedly agreed on general funding levels for the remaining 11 bills that reflect agreements made last year and which shortchanged education funding. Congress agreed in 2015 on higher funding levels for almost all appropriations bills, but funding for the education bill received the third smallest increase. That means our programs start with a tighter budget compared to programs funded by most other appropriations bills. With some Republican committee members urging tremendous increases for health research funding this year (which shares its budget with education), education proponents will have their work cut out for them to make the case for even level funding of their programs.

What this means is that programs funded in the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Bill will be fighting for an under-supported pot of money for FY2017. Worthy programs could easily be cut if Congress doesn’t hear from the grassroots supporting these programs. That means calls to Congress supporting library funding must continue!

Here is how Congress has proposed to fund library priorities in FY 2017 to date:

LSTA – Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees rejected the White House’s recommendation to cut funding for LSTA and the Grants to States Program. After months of work by ALA members and your Washington office, the Senate committee approved a $426,000 increase for LSTA and a $314,000 increase in Grants to States. The House committee approved a smaller $74,000 increase to LSTA and Grants to States.

IAL – Funding for IAL has thus far survived unscathed. In fact, the White House, Senate, and House all agree that the program should receive a small increase in funding over FY 2016 to $27 million in FY 2017. The Department of Education recently announced its 2016 grants.Graphic displaying stacks of cartoon coins

Title IV – This newly created block grant program under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides a tremendous opportunity for school libraries to access funding and secure a “seat at the table” in schools’ budgets. This program, enacted last year, was authorized at $1.65 billion in funding for “well-rounded education,” school technology, and safe and healthy students. Unfortunately in this first year of implementation, appropriators have not come close to actually approving real funds at the non-binding authorized level. Sadly, the White House recommended only $500 million and the Senate Appropriations Committee recommended just $300 million, while the House Committee recommended $1 billion. As this is the first year for Title IV, a  low funding level will severely diminish the chances of the program’s success. The House funding level of $1 billion for Title IV is likely to be the strongest possible level and thus justifies our support.

Many of us are suffering from election fatigue and this year’s nasty and sometimes seemingly policy-free election is making some want to forget Washington, but we cannot ignore the importance of the coming lame duck session that will decide the fate and funding for many library programs. Now is the time to use the ALA Action Center to tell your Members of Congress to support maximum LSTA, IAL and Title IV funding.

And just think…this all starts again in January for FY 2018!

About Kevin Maher

Kevin Maher is the assistant director of the American Library Association's Office of Government Relations.

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