November 25, 2002
Congress Adjourns for the Year Without Acting on Spending or Social Security Disability Legislation
As is being widely reported in the press, Congress reached final adjournment for the year on November 22, leaving behind final resolution of FY 2003 spending bills and a bipartisan measure to make improvements in Social Security's disability programs (SSI & SSDI). Congress will not reconvene until January when new members will be sworn in for the start of the 108th Congress. The first order of business will be completion of the FY 2003 appropriations bills, including funding bills for mental illness research and services and housing and veterans programs.
Congressional Leaders and the White House Agree on Spending Levels for FY 2003 Bills Even though the completed "lame duck" congressional session made little progress on resolving the impasse over the FY 2003 funding bills, congressional leaders and the Bush Administration did agree on overall spending levels. While FY 2003 began back on October 1, Congress has still not resolved 11 of the 13 appropriations bills that fund all federal government programs. Federal agencies are now operating on a "continuing resolution" that is keeping FY 2002 levels in place through January 11, 2003.
The agreement reached late last week between the President and Republican congressional leaders will leave overall spending levels close to the President's original request for FY 2003. This is roughly $10 billion below the overall levels contained in the FY 2003 spending bills that were stalled in the House and Senate prior to adjournment. When Congress returns in January, leaders on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will be forced to trim $10 billion from spending bills for the current fiscal year. For mental illness research and services and veterans and housing programs, this will likely mean that the President's original request for FY 2003 will prevail. Especially vulnerable in the process of finishing the FY 2003 spending bills will be those programs for which there is a proposed allocation in a pending appropriations House or Senate appropriations measure that is above the President's request.
For research and services programs of concern to NAMI, this includes:
- National Institutes for Mental Health (NIMH) – The President's original FY 2003 request of $1.343 billion is slightly below the Senate recommendation of $1.351 billion (a 7.8% boost). However, both are well above the FY 2002 appropriation for NIMH of $1.238 billion – a result of FY 2003 being the 5th and final year of a bipartisan effort in Congress to double federal funding on medical research (a goal endorsed by President Bush).
- Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) – part of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) – CMHSÂ’s largest program, the Mental Health Block Grant, is proposed for a freeze at $433 million in both the Bush budget and the Senate bill (S 2766). Both the President's budget and Senate bill include a $7 million increase for the PATH program (services for homeless individuals with mental illness), up to $47 million. At the same time, the President's request is $21 million below the Senate with respect to the Projects of Regional and National Significance (PRNS) account (funding for discretionary programs at CMHS) and the PAIMI (protection and advocacy) program. The PRNS account includes funding for programs such as Community Action Grants, technical assistance centers and services demonstrations on an array of priorities including jail diversion, suicide prevention and co- occurring disorders.
- Housing – The House VA-HUD Appropriations bill (HR 5605) includes a larger increase for the HUD Section 811 program for FY 2003 ($259.1 million) than either the Senate bill or the President's request ($251 million) – well above the FY 2002 level of $241 million. All would renew expiring project-based and tenant-based rent subsidies under the 811 for FY 2003. Both the House and Senate bills and the President's FY 2003 budget also set aside a separate allocation of Section 8 rental vouchers for non-elderly people with disabilities (including adults with mental illnesses) to address "elderly only" designation. For homeless programs, the President's request of $1.129 billion is slightly above both the House and the Senate bills (with funding included to both continue prioritizing development of permanent supportive housing and to renew all expiring Shelter Plus Care rent subsidies).
- Veterans – Both the House and Senate VA-HUD Appropriations bills (HR 5605/S 2797) propose to increase funding for VA medical care by more than $2.4 billion (up to $23.889 billion). Both bills are above the President's request of $22.743 billion. It is likely that Congress will prevail in pressing the Bush Administration for a higher allocation for veterans' medical care.
House Rejects Effort to Pass SSI and SSDI Protections
In the final hours before final adjournment, the House leadership rejected efforts to pass bipartisan legislation designed to make programmatic and technical corrections to the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) programs. The bill (HR 4070) had previously passed both the House and Senate without a single negative vote. Late last week, one last effort was needed for the House clear technical and conforming changes made by the Senate in order for the bill to be sent to President Bush. As noted in an E-News message of November 20, HR 4070 included several reforms to improve program integrity and performance for SSI and SSDI beneficiaries with mental illnesses. For example, HR 4070 included new protections for SSI and SSDI beneficiaries that receive cash assistance through representative payees and new requirements for Social Security field offices to issue receipts for earnings reports submitted by SSDI beneficiaries participating in the Trial Work Period program. Congressional supporters of HR 4070 plan to reintroduce the bill when Congress reconvenes in January.
"Our Lady of Peace Act" Stalled in Senate
In the days leading up to final adjournment, supporters of the "Our Lady of Peace Act" (HR 4757/S 2826) did not make an attempt to revive the legislation and pass it through the Senate by "unanimous consent." NAMI had been keeping a close watch on efforts to expedite passage of HR 4757/S 2826 in the Senate and clear the bill for the President's signature. The House had previously passed the bill on October 16 without dissent. The "Our Lady of Peace Act" would authorize federal funding to ensure that states and localities report the names of individuals "adjudicated as mentally defective" with the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NCIC). During consideration of HR 4757/S 2826, NAMI expressed concern that the legislation as drafted contained overly broad language with respect to the categories of individuals whose names would be reported to the NCIC and significant potential to reinforce stigma and compromise the privacy of individuals with mental illnesses. View Additional background on HR 4757/S 2826.