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Congress Adjourns: 2009 Funding Update

Funding for Veterans Programs Approved, Mental Illness Research and Services Funding Continued Through March

October 10, 2008

Late last week the House and Senate adjourned and are not expected back in Washington until mid-November for what is expected to be a very short post-election session.  In the addition to passing the landmark Paul Wellstone-Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, the House and Senate also last week cleared a funding measure to keep most federal agencies operating at their current levels through March 6, 2009.  This "continuing resolution" will keep agencies as the NIMH, SAMHSA and HUD at current FY 2008 funding levels through next year.

Congress Enacts Increases for Veterans Programs

The FY 2009 "continuing resolution" was attached to separate funding bills for the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans’ Affairs.  This will allow the VA to begin the new fiscal year with full year funding and important increases for veterans’ medical care in place. 

The final bill (HR 2638) includes $3.8 billion for mental illness treatment and $584 million for substance abuse treatment in the VA, significant increases over current year funding.  Overall, the Veterans Health Administration budget is set at $30.97 billion for FY 2009 -- $1.2 billion more than the President requested and $2.9 billion more than FY 2008.  It is projected that the VA will serve 5.8 million veterans in 2009.

For homeless veterans, the final FY 2009 bill allocates $130 million for the homeless grants and per diem program, rejecting a proposal from the Bush Administration to curt the program by $8 million.  This allocation also includes $32 million to hire additional personnel as part of the joint HUD-VA "VASH" program – veterans supportive housing.  The bill also includes $500 million for medical research at the VA, $38 million more than the President requested and $20 million more than was allocated in FY 2008. 

Click here for more details on the FY 2009 VA budget.

What Does This "Continuing Resolution" Mean for Mental Illness Research, Services and Housing?

As noted above, Congress passed (and President Bush has signed) a "continuing resolution" keeping FY 2008 funding levels for most federal agencies in place through March 6, 2009.  This will keep funding levels frozen until after the new President and Congress take office in January – at which time they will immediately begin work on spending bills for the remainder of FY 2009.  This freeze will impact a broad range of agencies including the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Operating under FY 2008 levels for an additional 6 months will allow most agencies to continue operating without interruption.  However, in the case of NIMH it places continued stress on the ability of agency to fund additional new grants.   Moving in to FY 2009, NIMH is in the 6th year of below inflation growth.  This has resulted in a 14% decline in "purchasing power" for the agency since 2002, taking into account medical research inflation.  Freezing the agency’s current budget at $1.414 billion for another six months is likely to further erode the number of new and competing research grants.