The Senate Appropriations Committee today unanimously approved the Fiscal Year 2004 VA, HUD and Independent Agencies Appropriations bill. The bill now goes before the full Senate for debate. Highlights of the $122.1 billion bill are below:
Department of Veteran Affairs (VA)
Overall, bill provides about $62 billion in direct appropriations for VA ($32.7 billion for mandatory programs and $29.3 billion for discretionary programs). The bill includes $26.8 billion for medical care, $1.57 billion above the request. With projected collections of $1.56 billion, medical care would receive $28.36 billion in fiscal year 2004. This is about $3.1 billion above the fiscal year 2003 enacted level. Of the amount provided, $1.3 billion is designated as contingent emergency spending. Medical care also includes $270 million recaptured from prior year funds. None of the administration's proposed fees is included.
Bill provides the VA with discretionary authority to implement pilot program to streamline process for filling privately written prescriptions (é─˙prescription only programé─¨). This allows veterans to receive prescription drugs without having to see a VA physician. Secretary Principi recently announced implementation of a prescription only program limited to veterans on the waiting list.
For CARES, bill provides budget request level of $183 million. In addition, bill allows VA to transfer up to $400 million from medical care to major construction account to implement CARES. This will allow VA to spend up to $583 million on CARES.
Bill provides budget request levels for all other discretionary accounts except for small increases in medical research and OIG.
Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The bill includes overall funding of $36.086 billion, an increase of $157.6 million over the budget request and $877 million over the FY 2002 level.
The bill rejects the administrations proposal to fund vouchers through the Housing Assistance for Needy families (HANF) account which would block grant voucher assistance to states. Instead, the bill funds the Housing Certificate Fund at $18.4 billion, which is the budget request as included in HANF and the proposed Project-Based Rental Assistance fund. Funding for section 8 would be provided for vouchers currently in use and for those that are likely to be used up to the authorized contract level.
The Public Housing Capital Fund is funded at the budget request of $2.6 billion and the Public housing operating fund is funded at $3.58 billion, the same as the FY 2003 level. Revitalization of Severely Distressed Public Housing (HOPE VI) is funded at $195 million and includes limited authority for the recapture of HOPE VI awards from FY 1997 and prior fiscal years from failed HOPE VI projects. The administration recommended the elimination of this program.
The Native American Housing Block grant program is funded at $646.6 million, the same as the budget request.
Housing for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) is funded at $291 million.
The Office of Rural Housing and Economic Development and Brownfields are funded at $25 million. Both were eliminated in the budget request. Empowerment zones were not funded, consistent with the budget request.
Community Development fund was funded at $4.95 billion as opposed to $4.7 billion in the budget request. These funds include $4.546 billion for the CDBG program as well as funding for many smaller grant programs.
HOME is funded at $1.975 billion and includes $50 million for the America Dream Downpayment fund and $40 million for housing counseling.
Homeless Assistance Grants are funded at $1.325 billion, the same as the budget request.
Housing for Special Populations is funded at $1.034 billion, of which $783 million is for Section 202 Elderly Housing and $250 million is for Section 811 Housing for the Disabled.
The Office of lead Hazard Control is funded at $175 million, of which $50 million is for a lead hazard reduction demonstration which focuses on major urban areas where children are at a disproportionate risk for lead poisoning.
American Battle Monuments Commission is funded at $35 million which includes $1.7 million to fund the ongoing Normandy Visitor Center project.
Community Development Financial Institutions is funded at $70 million, an increase of $19 million over the budget request. The increase restores funding to the CDFI program and the Bank Enterprise Act.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission is funded at $60 million, the same as the budget request.
Corporation for National and Community Service (CNSC)
The bill provides about $484 million for CNCS. This is almost $100 more than the fiscal year 2003 enacted level, $113 million below the budget request, and about $4 million more than the House bill. Both the funding level and funding increase amount are the highest in CNCS history.
The bill includes $340 million for AmeriCorps, a $66.8 million increase over the fiscal year 2003 enacted level and $93.2 million below the budget request. No cap on AmeriCorps member enrollment included whereas House bill includes a cap of 55,000 on new AmeriCorps members. Bill provides flexibility in funding more é─˙education award onlyé─¨ grants. Further, bill requires the Corporation to lower federal costs per member by 10 percent and increase matching requirement. These provisions will allow CNCS to meet President's goal of enrolling up to 75,000 new AmeriCorps members in fiscal year 2004.
Other highlights include $43 million for Learn and Serve, $25 million for NCCC, $10 million for Points of Light, $5 million for America's Promise, $5 million for challenge grants, and $2 million for next generation. Bill also includes $1 million for NAPA study of CNCS leadership, operations, and management structure.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
EPA is funded at $8.18 billion, an increase of $552 million over the budget request and $105 million over the FY 2003 level. Highlights include full funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund at the fiscal year 2003 level which is $500 million more than the budget request, and full funding for the Drinking Water State Revolving fund at $850 million which is equal to the budget request and the fiscal year 2003 level. The Superfund account is funded at $1.265 billion which is the same as the fiscal year 2003 level and $125 million less than the budget request. This account includes requirements to help push EPA towards more Superfund closeouts. The Brownfields program is funded at $160.5 million which is $20 million below the budget request. This reduction reflects concerns that the state revolving loan fund component of the program has been virtually unused.
Language has been included to clarify an existing exemption in the Clean Air Act that engines that are used in farm equipment and construction equipment and that are smaller than 175 horsepower are exempt from state regulation for emissions but remain subject to EPA regulation.
National Science Foundation (NSF)
The bill includes $5.59 billion for NSF. This is an increase of $104.6 million, or 2% above the President's request. This is an increase of $276 million, or 5.2%, over the FY 2003 enacted level.
The Research and Related Activities account is funded at $4.2 billion, an increase of $114 million, or 2.8%, above the President's request level. Within this account plant genome is funded at $90 million, an increase of $15 million above the President's request. Nanotechnology is funded at $275 million, or $25 million above the President's request.
The Education and Human Development account is funded at $976 million, which is $38 million more than the requested amount. EPSCoR is funded at $25 million over the budget request of $75 million, for a total funding level of $100 million. There is also $65 million in funding for informal science education, an increase of $15 million above the President's request. Tech talent (the STEM talent expansion program) is funded at $30 million, an increase of $23 million over the requested amount.
In the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account, the bill is funded at $150 million, which is $53 million below the requested amount by the administration. This is due to additional funds being provided for early completion of projects in the FY2003 bill, but was actually scheduled to receive funding for that purpose in FY 2004. All continuing projects within this account are fully funded at the President's requested level. We have also decided not to do any new starts within this account this year.
In response Senator Allen's minority serving institution (MSI) infrastructure legislation, we have provided $25 million in funds for scientific instrumentation at MSIs. We have also included language that calls for NSF to create a senior level management position with the sole task of assisting MSIs and minority students in identifying funding sources at NSF. There is also language that directs NSF to create a senior management position specifically tasked to assist MSIs.
The bill has NASA funded at $15.3 billion. This is the same as the amount enacted in FY 2003.
The Human Space Flight makes no changes to the funding in the Shuttle account, but are encourages NASA to keep Congress notified of any changes to this program resulting from the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB). The report requires NASA to provide a comprehensive plan within 4 months regarding response to the CIAB, as well as a 10-year funding profile for all of Shuttle fleet as safe and the proposed changes. The report expresses concern over what the impacts of the CAIB recommendations will be, and if there is a restructuring at NASA, what the long-term implications of a reorganization may be. We are also making limitations that will not allow NASA to move funds away from the Shuttle program.
The bill includes a reduction of $200 million for the International Space Station (ISS). With the current situation aboard the station of a reduced crew and Russians supplying vehicles for crew and cargo transfer, there are other pressing needs within NASA and the bill for funds. At this time, NASA is unsure as to when the ISS will be operating with a crew of three, it may only be for a few more months or it could be longer than a year. The ISS has reserves of over $250 million and should be able to cover this modest reduction.
The Science, Aeronautics, and Exploration fund is funded at the request with the exception of a $20 million reduction for the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter. This reduction corresponds to a similar amount funded into the program last year, but that was not requested. The result is that the funding for the program is equal to the FY 2004 request, but is spread over two fiscal years, but actually 8 calendar months. There is also $50 million in additional funds that go towards aeronautics research. The bill also has some other minor adjustments to other programs, but there are no major cuts or terminations to any programs within this portion of the bill.
NASA has come to the Committee in the recent past about various human capitol issues, including retention bonuses and increased buyout authority. The bill asks for NASA to report on what they feel the budgetary impacts of such practices will be, both initially and over the long term. The bill includes a requirement that the National Academy of Public Administration do a top to bottom management analysis of NASA, particularly in response to the CAIB report which cited NASA management and culture as being a factor in the Columbia accident.