By Cristin Kumar, Consultant, Foundations for Families

Yesterday, the U.light. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released its full budget request for FY 2018, proposing $635 million for the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership program. While there is uncertainty about the priorities of many federal programs under the new administration, this is a good indication of this program’s continued funding. Because Congress is ultimately responsible for federal funding, the popularity of this program among both Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate bodes well for the program’s bright future.

The Federal Funding Process Explained

Historically, every February, the president submits an executive budget request to Congress with federal funding recommendations for discretionary programs. The president’s budget request encapsulates the administration’s top policy priorities, and often, the president will use the budget request to suggest new programs and/or eliminate others. For instance, President Obama used his Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 budget request to propose his “Preschool for All” program, which would have created a $75 billion over ten year federal-state preschool program.

It is important to note the president’s budget request is a suggestion – not a requirement – as Article I of the Constitution established Congress as the arbiter of taxpayer funds. Upon receiving the administration’s request, the U.S. Senate and U.S. House Budget Committees traditionally create their own budgets. Each chamber passes its own budget resolution (which does not need to be signed into law by the president), setting the spending limit for discretionary funds for the following fiscal year (which begins September 30). The process results in what are called 302(b) allocations, which determine the total amount of funding a subcommittee can appropriate to the programs under its jurisdiction. The Labor-Health-and Human Services (Labor-HHS) Appropriations subcommittees in the House and Senate oversee funding levels for programs like Head Start and the Child Care and Development Block Grant. In FY 2017, the Labor-HHS bill provided funding of about $161 billion for all of its programs, including the National Institutes of Health, which received $34 billion, and Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which received $15 billion.

After multiple public hearings and meetings with advocates and related agencies, the Appropriations subcommittees in the House and Senate report their bills to the full Appropriations committees. Each of the subcommittee bills is voted on by the full House and Senate. This step is supposed to conclude in July, so that the spending bill is signed by the president before the August recess, when members of Congress return to their districts. However, this is the historical process and hardly reflects the reality of the past several decades. Rather, Congress funds federal programs under continuing resolutions (CRs) as stop-gap measures to keep the government running when their negotiations stall. They also may enact an omnibus appropriations bill which combines several appropriations bills into one.

In recent years, the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 has significantly altered the budget process. The law placed budget caps on federal programs through FY 2021 and threatened sequestration (across the board cuts on federal programs). The most recent modification of BCA, the 2015 Bipartisan Budget Act, modified spending caps for 2016 and 2017, but come 2018 (which legislators are currently deliberating), the sequester will once again go into effect. This could entail a 6.9% decrease to all non-defense discretionary programs, including Head Start. Lawmakers are currently looking at ways to avoid sequestration cuts by replacing the BCA caps.

Legislative Background on the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership Program

Technically, Congress has never officially authorized the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership (EHS-CCP) program. Rather, the program was created through the appropriations process under Head Start’s statutory authority. The legislative text in which the program appears is inclusive of multiple Early Head Start initiatives. The appropriations committee typically leaves up to the discretion of the federal agency responsible for Early Head Start (the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families) how much of the funding reserved for Early Head Start will go to the EHS-CCP program. In FY 2014, the reserved amount was $500 million; in FY 2015, it was again $500 million (with $490 million dedicated to the program grants); and in FY 2016, it was $635 million (with $621 million dedicated solely to program grants). For FY 2017, out of the $640 million dedicated to Early Head Start, approximately $634 million will be allocated for grants. The remaining $6 million will be used for monitoring and evaluation, and other administrative purposes.

The Administration for Children and Families’ (ACF) FY 2018 budget justification released yesterday includes $9.168 billion for Head Start, the same as in FY 2016 (FY 2017 funding was a slightly higher amount). Most notably, it delineates $635 million for the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership program, to be spent down by March 31, 2019. Because Congress is responsible for doling out federal funds, it will determine whether that amount is sufficient; however, the fact that among large cuts in HHS the administration included language funding EHS-CCP speaks volumes about the popularity of the program and its prospects for the future. Read the HHS/ACF Budget Justification for more details.

Further adding to the good news, congressional appropriators who make the final funding decisions have historically been very supportive of high-quality, effective early childhood programs like the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships. Senior Republican congressman (Rep. Mike Simpson, R-ID) said at a House Labor-HHS Appropriations subcommittee hearing this March (“Investing in the Future- Early Childhood Education Programs at the Department of Health and Human Services”), “This may actually be the most important hearing this committee, maybe even Congress, has.” He closed by noting that the Congress decides the final funding levels and has rejected executive budget recommendations for eliminating or reducing program funds in the past. Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK), who has been supportive of funding for early childhood programs, opened the hearing, “Early childhood education programs not only help children socially and cognitively, research has also linked high quality early childhood programs to savings to K-12 education.” Given these endorsements around high-quality early education and the Congress’ decision to fund the EHS-CCP program since 2014, when Republicans have been in the majorities in the House and Senate, it would appear this program has a good chance of continuing on, notwithstanding significant changes in congressional funding priorities.

As the appropriations subcommittees begin their various hearings with administration officials to discuss the budget request this week and continue over the coming months, we will learn more about the legislative appetite for the president’s budget and cuts made to other areas of federal funding. It appears the EHS-CCP will begin this months-long process on a strong foundation.

The Current Status of Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership Program Funding

The recent Omnibus Appropriations bill, H.R. 244, continued funding the federal government through September 30, 2017 (the end of FY 2017). The bill includes a reservation of $640 million for Early Head Start, of which $634 million will be provided for EHS-CCP. Specifically, the language reads,

$640,000,000 shall be available through March 31, 2018 for Early Head Start programs as described in section 645A of such Act, for conversion of Head Start services to Early Head Start services as described in section 645(a)(5)(A) of such Act, for discretionary grants for high quality infant and toddler care through Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships, to entities defined as eligible under section 645A(d) of such Act, for training and technical assistance for such activities, and for up to $14,000,000 in Federal costs of administration and evaluation, and, notwithstanding section 645A(c)(2) of such Act, these funds are available to serve children under age 4.

Because the above language makes EHS-CCP funds available through March 31, 2018, the next Notice of Awards for the program would need to be issued no later than March 31, 2018. Working backwards, the Funding Opportunity Announcement for FY 2017 EHS-CCP grant proposals should be released in the coming months. As such, it may be advised that you begin preparing your organization to draft a proposal should you intend to apply for this next round of funding.

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