State and Federal Budget Issues
Highlights of the FY 2008 House-Senate Agreement for Labor-HHS and Veterans Appropriations
November 7, 2007
The President has already threatened to veto this FY 2008 House-Senate Labor-HHS package – as part of a larger struggle with Congress over domestic discretionary spending levels. This dispute is expected to continue through the end of the year as the Democratic leadership in Congress holds out for modest increases in overall spending and the President seeks to hold funding levels to the amounts he requested for FY 2008 back in February 2007.
FY 2008 funding for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is included in the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill (HR 3043/S 1710). The House-Senate agreement includes the largest increase for the NIH in general, and NIMH in particular, since FY 2005. The House-Senate agreement proposes a 3.1% increase above FY 2007 across the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This translates into a $37.4 million increase for the NIMH for FY 2008 – boosting overall funding to $1.441 billion ($36 million above the President’s request).
The House-Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations agreement for FY 2008 restores cuts to SAMHSA and the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) proposed by President Bush. In addition, the House-Senate agreement boosts funding for CMHS by $41.4 million over FY 2007 by adding funding for PTSD best practice centers, suicide prevention, and congressional earmarks. CMHS funding also includes:
- Mental Health Block Grant – Funded at $428.3 million, the same as the FY 2007.
- PATH (state formula grants for outreach and engagement of homeless individuals with mental illness) – funded at $54.3 million, the same amount as last year.
- Childrens’ Mental Health – Maintained at the current level of $104.1 million.
- Garrett Lee Smith Suicide Prevention – Boosted by $3.9 million, to $40 million.
- Protection & Advocacy (PAIMI) – Increased to $36.5 million (boosted by $2.5 million above FY 2007).
- Jail Diversion – $6.93 million in funding restored, $3 million more than the President’s request.
Finally, both the House-Senate agreement includes restoration of $34 million in reductions in the President’s budget for a range of discretionary programs at CMHS under Programs of Regional and National Significance (PRNS) including state incentives grants, youth violence prevention and elderly services. In the case of state incentive grants, the Administration was proposing to end existing Mental Health Transformation Grants at the end of their two year cycle.
The bill also includes a $576 million increase for the administrative budget for the Social Security Administration. These additional funds are allocated to helping reduce the enormous backlog in claims for eligibility for disability benefits under SSI and SSDI. Currently, there are more than 758,000 claims for disability benefits waiting for administrative hearings at SSA, with 144,000 cases pending longer than 900 days. The average waiting time to get a hearing at SSA now exceeds 500 days. In addition, SSA field offices are being forced to slash hours all across the country. For many people with severe disabilities (including mental illness), SSI and SSDI benefits are the only means of income and basic support. As a result of this backlog in resolving claims and appeals, many people with disabilities are becoming destitute, declaring bankruptcy, and losing their homes. These additional funds are critical to addressing this crisis.
The House-Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations agreement has been combined with a separate bill allocating FY 2008 funding for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs for FY 2008 (HR 2642/S 1645). This includes the overall budget of $43.1 billion for the VA, a $3.7 billion increase above the President’s request. For VA medical care, the House-Senate agreement allocates $37.2 billion, or $2.6 billion above the President’s request. In addition, the President on November 5 signed into law HR 327, the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, which requires VA to develop and implement a comprehensive program to reduce the incidence of suicide among veterans.