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Harkin: Omnibus Agreement Funds Vital Health, Education, Labor Priorities

January 13, 2014

Harkin: Omnibus Agreement Funds Vital Health, Education, Labor Priorities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, today issued the following statement on the Fiscal Year 2014 bill included as part of H.R.3547, the omnibus spending package.

“It has been nearly two years since the last Labor-HHS Appropriations bill was negotiated program by program and passed by Congress– just think of how much has changed in that time,” said Harkin.  “The funding announced today makes critical investments in early learning because we know that learning begins at birth and preparation for learning begins before birth.  The bill also will allow our economy to continue its recovery by supporting workers with job training and protections of workers’ rights.  This funding will help Americans get preventive care, which we know reduces chronic disease and rising health care costs.    

“We took a thoughtful approach to funding these critical programs because this bill funds America’s priorities; it is the bill in which we invest in our future,” Harkin concluded. 

Highlights of the bill include:significant new investments that support high quality early learning programs; a $1 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue research and begin new studies and trials; new investments in health grants to increase wellness in the community; funding to support the ‘Now is the Time’ violence prevention initiative with mental health first aid grants, allowing teachers to recognize students with mental illness early and refer them to treatment; and new funding to support innovation at colleges and universities.

These priorities are summarized below.

The bill includes significant new investments that support high quality early learning programs. Together these investments address programs for children from before birth through age five, and across settings:

Head Start – Includes $8.6 billion, a $1.025 billion increase, for Head Start, which will support comprehensive early childhood services for approximately 90,000 additional children and their families. This increase restores cuts from sequestration and on top of that supports an approximately 1.3 percent cost of living adjustment for all current grantees. This will help restore slots lost because of sequestration, allow grantees to retain and recruit highly qualified staff, and otherwise keep pace with rising costs in order to maintain high quality services.

Within the totals above, the increase for Head Start includes $500 million to expand Early Head Start, for children and families from before birth through age 3, including the establishment of new Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships. This increase will provide high quality Early Head Start services to approximately 40,000 additional children, a more than one-third increase. Through new Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships, Early Head Start providers will partner with local center and home-based child care programs to improve the quality of those programs to meet Early Head Start standards. This leverages investments through the Child Care and Development Fund, and will further improve the quality of early childhood care and education options for infants and toddlers.

Child Care and Development Block Grant – Includes$2.36 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which provides grants to states for child care assistance to working families, and to otherwise improve the quality of child care programs. This is a $154 million increase over the fiscal year 2013 level, which will support child care assistance for an estimated 22,000 additional children and their working families. These are families who are working, or looking for work, and depend on quality, affordable child care in order to do so.

Race to the Top – The bill allows $250 million to be used for grants to States to help them develop, enhance or expand high quality preschool programs for children ages 4 and over and from low- and moderate income families or for other State early learning activities that improve the quality of such programs.    

The bill includes investments in health to expand NIH’s reach and continue strong investments in prevention and wellness:

National Institutes of Health (NIH) – The bill includes a $1 billion increase to the NIH.  This amount should allow the NIH to continue all current research programs and begin approximately 385 additional research studies and trials. 

The agreement includes new funding for the Brain Research through Application of Innovative Neurotechnologies [BRAIN] Initiative, a multi-agency effort that also involves the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency as well as several private sector partners. The BRAIN Initiative will help catalyze work to accelerate the development and application of new technologies that will help explain how the brain records, processes, uses, stores, and retrieves information.

In addition, the bill includes sufficient funding for the proposed initiative to study new ways to prevent and cure Alzheimer’s disease. The total payments for healthcare, long-term care, and hospice for people with Alzheimer's and other dementias are projected to increase from $203 billion in 2013 to a staggering $1.2 trillion in 2050.  Without a medical breakthrough to prevent, slow, or stop the disease, Medicare and Medicaid costs related to Alzheimer's could rise an estimated 500 percent. Research is desperately needed to bring those costs under control.

In keeping with Chairman Harkin’s long-standing priority on shifting the American health care system from treatment to prevention, the omnibus includes significant resources for prevention and public health activities:

Prevention and Public Health Fund - The omnibus allocates the Prevention and Public Health Fund (section 4002 of the Affordable Care Act), authored by Senator Harkin.  This is the first time that Congress has allocated Fund resources, as was intended by the law, since its inception. 

Community Prevention Grants– The bill launches a new $80 million program to help communities build multi-sector partnerships around better health.  This initiative is the next step after the 2005 Healthy Communities program and the Harkin Wellness grants in Iowa.  Grants will be made to municipal governments, school districts, business, and transportation providers.

Obesity– The omnibus bill more than doubles funding for State grant programs on Diabetes prevention ($137 million) and Heart Disease & Stroke prevention ($128 million). 

CDC’s Office of Smoking and Health– The omnibus includes a $20 million increase for a total of $205 million.  This office is the sponsor of the public health media campaign “Tips From a Former Smoker”  A September report, published in medical journal The Lancet, said that there was a relative 12 percent increase in smokers' attempts to quit after the campaign, meaning that an estimated 1.6 million smokers in the U.S. had tried to quit, and that about 220,000 would still be abstinent after the commercials had run their course. However, because many smokers relapse after trying to quit, particularly in the first week, the CDC estimates that 100,000 people would successfully quit smoking in the long term as a result of the first year of this ad campaign.

Addressing the complex challenges of violence in our local communities, the bill includes increases to improve access to mental health treatment, prevent violence, and improve school safety:

Mental Health –The bill includes $1.13 billion for mental health programs across the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, an increase of $213 million.  The bill provides $115 million for the Now is the Time violence prevention initiative:   mental health first aid grants, allowing teachers to reach 750,000 students with the goal of recognizing those with mental illness early and referring them to treatment;  20 grants to State Education Authorities (SEAs) to promote comprehensive programs in 1,000-1,500 schools to get students with mental health issues referred to needed services; mental health workforce training which will add an estimated 4,375 social workers, psychologists, therapists and other mental health professionals to the behavioral health workforce; and  $20 million for programs targeting young adults at high risk of mental illness.  The bill also provides a $47 million increase for the Mental Health Block Grant, along with a new set-aside for early intervention programs for those with serious mental illness such as psychosis. 

Safe Schools– The bill includes $140 million, an increase of $29 million, for activities that support safe school environments.   Funds may be used to develop or upgrade emergency management plans, create positive school climates or address issues of pervasive violence in some of our communities.   Safe, positive school environments can help reduce unhealthy student behavior, increase academic achievement, and counter the effects that vio­lence can have on students.

The bill protects Pell Grant funding, provides increases in student financial aid programs and creates a new initiative to support innovative strategies that will improve outcomes and make college more affordable.

Pell Grants – The bill maintains level funding for the Pell Grant program at $22.8 billion.  Combined with mandatory funding, the total maximum award is estimated to rise by $85 to $5,730.  The Department of Education will announce the actual mandatory increase, which is based on calendar year 2013 Consumer Price Index data, next month.  The number of recipients is estimated to increase by 186,000, from 9,125,000 in 2013-14 to 9,311,000 in 2014-15.

Campus-based Student Aid Programs– The bill includes $975 million, a $49 million increase, for the Federal Work Study program to help needy students meet the cost of their education through part-time employment. The bill also includes $733 million, a $37 million increase, for the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program, which provides students with need-based grant aid to help reduce financial barriers to postsecondary education. Both programs incentivize and leverage institutional funding to support student financial aid.

First in the World – The bill includes $75 million to create the First in the World Initiative in the Department of Education. This initiative will provide grants to colleges and universities to implement innovative and effective strategies that improve educational outcomes and reduce the net price paid by students and families.

The bill includes increased funding for activities that protect workers’ rights in the workplace and helps them gain the knowledge they need to succeed in the workforce. 

Protecting Workers and Whistleblowers – The bill in­cludes $552 million, a $17 million increase, for the Occupational Health and Safety Administration and targets a $2 million increase for its enforcement of whistleblower laws. These laws provide critical protections for workers who raise issues in their workplace about practices that could impact fellow employees or the public.

Securing Wages and Benefits Earned – The bill includes $224 million, an increase of $9 million for the Wage and Hour Division.  These funds will help address the misclassification of workers as independent contractors and other labor law violations.  Misclassifications deny workers their rights to unemployment and other benefits, and also reduce revenue to the UI, So­cial Security, and Medicare trust funds, as well as to the Treasury.  An additional $10 million in new funding is provided for misclassification activities in State Unemployment Insurance Operations. 

Job Training – The bill includes $2.6 billion, an increase of $121 million, for Workforce Invest­ment Act Grants to States to provide job training skills and assist­ance to low-skilled adults, dislocated workers, and low-income youth with barriers to employment.

Veterans Employment and Training – The bill includes $270 million, an increase of $19 million, to expand employment services to transitioning servicemembers, vet­erans with disabilities, and their spouses and caregivers.

Other highlights of the bill include:

IDEA/Special Education – The bill provides $498 million more than the fiscal year 2013 level for Special Education State Grants – enough to cover the costs of employing roughly 6,000 additional special education staff.  Without this increase, state and local taxpayers would foot the bill for supporting services needed by special education students.  The bill provides $11.473 billion for this program.  

Title I/Disadvantaged Schools – The bill provides $14.4 billion for Title I funding. These funds help schools, particularly those with concentrations of economically disadvantaged students, meet high academic achievement standards.  This increase of $625 million will support services to an estimated 1 million additional students.   Roughly 90 percent of the nation’s school districts receive Title I funding.  

21st Century Community Learning Centers –The bill provides $1.149 billion, an increase of $58 million, to support additional learning time programs in communities throughout our nation.   

Impact Aid – The bill provides $1.3 billion, an increase of $65 million, for impact aid education programs.  These funds help school districts make up for lost revenue or address increased costs associated with a federal activity, such as a military base.  

TRIO Programs – The bill includes $838 million, an increase of $42 million, to help low-income and first generation college students plan, prepare for, and succeed in college through the TRIO programs.

Unemployment Insurance (UI) Program Integrity – The bill includes a minimum of $80 million, an increase of $16 million, to conduct reemployment and eligibility as­sessments and UI improper payment reviews. This level is projected to save State UI trust funds an estimated $315 million by helping claimants exit the UI program faster and avoid exhaust­ing their benefits.

Social Security Administration (SSA) – The bill includes $11.7 billion for SSA’s administrative expenses, a $651 million increase. This will allow SSA to begin to restore staffing lost due to budget cuts in recent years, improve service to the American public, and increase program integrity activities that reduce improper payments and save taxpayer dollars in the long-run.   

Community Health Centers (CHCs) – The bill includes $3.6 billion, a $700 million increase, to provide comprehensive, quality health care services to medically underserved communities and vulnerable populations. This includes $350 million to create over 450 new community health centers across the nation and expand clinical services at existing health centers. These facilities provide crucial and effective health care for families in need, while at the same time creating good jobs in our communities. Programs supported by this funding include community health centers, migrant health centers, healthcare for the homeless, and public housing health service grants.

HIV/AIDs Programs – The bill includes $2.3 billion, a $70 million increase, to provide HIV-related services to more than half a million people each year. This includes $900 million for the AIDS Drug Assistance program (ADAP), a $38 million increase, which continues the $24 million World AIDS transfer and adds an increase of $14 million. This increase will provide approximately 2,300 additional patients with access to life-saving HIV medications and help to shorten ADAP wait lists

Family Violence Prevention and Services – The bill includes $138 million, a $14 million increase, for family violence prevention and services programs, including $4.5 million, a $1.5 million increase, for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. This increase will improve access to emergency shelter and related services for victims of domestic violence, and programs to prevent family violence.On any given day approximately 65,000 domestic violence victims receive such services, while over 10,000 additional requests for services go unmet because of a lack of resources.

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) – The bill includes $3.425 billion for LIHEAP, a $169 million increase. This will allow states to provide home energy assistance to approximately 415,000 additional low-income households this winter and coming summer, increase assistance to the approximately 7.7 million households currently receiving such assistance, or some combination of the two.

Community Services Block Grant – The bill includes $674 million for the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), a $39 million increase over the fiscal year 2013 level. The CSBG is a critical, flexible source of funding that helps local community-based organizations provide a variety of assistance to low-income populations.

Senior Meals – The bill includes $815 million for senior nutrition programs, which provides congregate meals and meals on wheels to needy seniors so they can remain healthy and independent.  This amount fully replaces the cuts imposed in FY 2013 sequester in FY 2013 on the program. 

The bill launches or continues several initiatives that will lever­age policy reform and transform key federal services:

Performance Partnership Pilots – The bill includes language allowing up to 10 communities to develop and implement cost-effective solutions that lead to improved outcomes for disadvantaged youth. 

Pay For Success Demonstration– The bill includes new authority and $14 million in funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service to test models of financing that pay for outcomes, rather than activities.  Modeled after Social Impact Bonds, which were developed in the U.K., Pay For Success pilots will leverage private resources by reimbursing entities for accomplishing the desired outcome rather than the current system of awarding a grant to an entity for future activities that are believed to accomplish the same outcome.

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