This fourth post in a series of “Advocacy How-To” blogs was written by Amanda, Director of Policy Outreach for the Alliance. In this series, you’ll find tips, tools, and strategies to conduct your own advocacy and get involved in Alliance advocacy campaigns.
Last week, we discussed how a bill becomes a law. This week, we want to explore that process for a specific type of legislation: appropriations bills.
While it may seem complicated and removed from your work in the field, the appropriations process plays a huge role in determining how much is available in federal resources for ending homelessness in your community.
The appropriations process focuses on “discretionary spending” that Congress can set each year – as opposed to mandatory spending, like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, or Social Security. Discretionary spending includes a huge range of federal programs, like HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants.
The appropriations process is very similar to the process for passing authorizing bills, with a few key differences: funding must be approved each year to run the functions of government, and the sitting President always submits formal recommendations for appropriations.
- The release of these recommendations – called the President’s Budget Proposal – kicks off the federal budget process each year, usually in early February.
- Congress uses the President’s recommendations as a guide as it makes decisions about the budget and funding levels for programs like McKinney-Vento.
- After the President’s Budget Proposal is released, each chamber of Congress (the Senate and the House) usually passes a Budget Resolution, which is a document that provides an overall framework for spending (including discretionary spending) in the upcoming fiscal year. This year, the House has already passed a Budget Resolution but the Senate has yet to act.
- After passing the Budget Resolution, which sets out the overall amount of discretionary money available to spend (called a 302(a) allocation), the total amount is then divided up among the twelve different Appropriations Subcommittees. All federal discretionary programs are divided into these twelve subcommittees by department and topic.
- Using this smaller allocation (called a 302(b) allocation), each subcommittee then drafts, releases, and passes its own funding bill. For example, the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee writes a bill providing specific funding levels for programs within the departments of Transportation and HUD.
- After each bill passes its subcommittee, it must then be passed by the full Appropriations Committee and then by the full House or Senate.
- Then, just as with authorizing bills, the process will be repeated in the other chamber.
- Lastly, the House and Senate will have to work out the differences between their two versions of each funding bill. Once they do, they will pass the final version and send it to the President for his signature.
So, when does all of this happen? The federal fiscal year starts on October 1. Theoretically, each of the twelve funding bills should be signed into law before then. In reality, Congress often grants itself an extension or two and may package two or more of the individual funding bills together to save time. That’s exactly what happened with the final fiscal year 2011 budget, which wasn’t passed until April and included all twelve funding bills in one piece of legislation.
Although the appropriations process can be complicated, advocates just like you work every day to impact it so they can better end homelessness. If you’re interested in learning more or getting involved in the coming months in efforts to affect this process in fiscal year 2012, contact Amanda Krusemark.
Image courtesy of doctorwonder.