DeLauro opening statement at subcommittee markup of 2017 Labor, HHS, Education Appropriations bill
Mister Chairman, I am glad that we are here today—this bill has not made it before the subcommittee nearly enough in recent years, and I appreciate Chairman Cole’s efforts to bring the Labor-HHS bill to markup both years of his Chairmanship. I look forward to going to full committee markup next week—the committee must debate these issues in public.
The Labor-Health and Human Services-Education bill is called “The People’s Bill” for a reason. It is about providing people with the opportunities they need to get ahead in life. The programs we fund level the playing field for low-income children looking to learn. They help Americans learn the skills they need to find a job in a tough economy. They equip our nation to deal with public health emergencies.
But these programs are put in grave danger when they are insufficiently funded. Last year, I was troubled that the Labor-HHS bill received only a fraction [about one-half] of its fair share of the $66 billion increase provided by the budget deal. While the other non-defense subcommittees received an average increase of 6.9 percent last year, the Labor-HHS bill increased by only 3.4 percent. This year’s cut to the 302(b) allocation does even more damage to the programs funded in the bill.
While there are some increases in the bill—and I strongly support them—these come at the expense of many priorities that are already underfunded. True, some programs are not cut. Special Education is increased over last year, as are Gear-Up, TRIO, Head Start and CCDBG. However, due to recent improvements to Head Start and CCDBG, the funding provided is not sufficient to continue to serve the same number of children—in fact, we will lose 125,000 Head Start slots at this funding level.
Lifesaving research at the National Institutes of Health gets a much-needed $1.25 billion boost, and I am pleased to see the new $500 million Comprehensive Opioid Response Grants at SAMHSA.
The bill also includes $300 million for a new infectious disease rapid response reserve fund, which is similar to legislation I authored to fund the public health emergency fund. While the creation of this fund is a step in the right direction, much more funding is needed to respond to future public health emergencies and the funding should be designated as “emergency,” as we do with the Disaster Relief Fund, which would ensure it does not come at the expense of other critical programs in the bill.
But the modest increases in this bill are offset by devastating cuts to a range of programs essential to children, families, seniors, women, workers, and students. Throughout this bill, the Majority has chosen to starve priorities that are already suffering. Wealthy corporate interests benefit while working families lose access to critical programs.
The bill hurts women’s health by completely eliminating funding for Title X Family Planning at a time when it is needed most—especially considering the public health threat of the Zika virus. The bill also eliminates the Teen Pregnancy Prevention program—an action I find baffling given that teen pregnancy has been on the decline over the past twenty years.
The bill breaks our promise to seniors by cutting the operating budget for Medicare by $881 million, and cutting the operating budget for Social Security by $264 million. This is mind boggling at a time when baby boomers are just beginning to enter the Medicare system. Millions of seniors and low income families rely on benefits provided by Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security–but this bill slashes more than $1.1 billion dollars from the agencies that manage those vital services.
The bill also hurts students by cutting $1.3 billion from the Pell Grant program at a time when our economy is burdened with over $1.2 trillion in student debt. The bill further cuts or eliminates more than two dozen education programs, and in many places, flies in the face of the bipartisan reauthorization of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Literary programs were also cut by $57 million, and the Teacher Quality State Grants program was cut by $400 million.
Aside from a few select increases, the bill cuts and underfunds several programs within the Department of Health and Human Services. It cuts Tobacco Prevention by $110 million, eliminating the “tips from former smokers” campaign—an enormously successful program which has helped 400,000 smokers quit for good since 2012, saving 16,000 lives every year.
The bill cuts the Department of Labor’s budget by $538 million—hobbling worker protection agencies that promote safe, healthy, and fair workplaces.
This bill hurts unemployed workers by cutting $300 million from job training funds reserved for dislocated workers, and by completely eliminating Apprenticeship Grants, which were funded at $90 million last year. Apprenticeship Grants present a key opportunity to connect job-seekers with the business community. They are a valuable tool for our economy.
Too many hard-working Americans are stuck in jobs that do not pay them enough to make ends meet. How can we be talking about cutting programs that help people who have lost their jobs or are looking to train in order to make a better living?
And of course, there are the riders. Yet again, this bill attempts to block funding for the Affordable Care Act, putting health care for working families at risk. It also prohibits funds for family planning and research into patient-centered outcomes.
It also continues to prohibit funding for gun violence prevention, which has had a chilling effect on gun violence research.
This bill leaves students, workers, and women more vulnerable to exploitation. It blocks the Department of Education from protecting students at risk from low-quality, high-debt for-profit college programs that hurt students and veterans.
It prohibits the Department of Labor from ensuring that financial advisers act in the best interests of their clients and from updating overtime pay provisions affecting 4.2 million workers across the country.
It continues the Majority’s assault on the American worker by stopping the National Labor Relations Board from enforcing its own rules facilitating union elections.
And it targets women by allowing their employers to block access to preventive health services if they have so-called “religious or moral” objections.
I am also very concerned about the state of the Zika virus public health emergency. Our Zika response should be funded through a $1.9 billion emergency supplemental before Congress adjourns next week. We cannot wait until December or January to provide funds to prepare for this threat – we are already four months too late.
The funding in this bill fails to meet our country’s needs, and breaks our promises to women, seniors, students, and our workforce. Today we will offer a set of amendments to restore those promises. I hope some of our colleagues in the majority will join us in this effort.