March 7, 2011
Despite that we are now five months into the current federal fiscal year, Congress has yet to pass operating budgets for nearly all federal discretionary programs. An omnibus “continuing resolution” passed the House on February 19, 2011. It contains $62 billion in cuts to non-defense discretionary programs—including cuts to mental illness research, services and housing programs.
This past week, Congress passed, and President Obama signed, a two-week extension of a temporary “continuing resolution” that had been in place. This move extends current fiscal year 2010 levels for most programs through March 18, 2011. While negotiations among all sides are continuing, the Senate is expected to take separate votes on HR 1, the House-passed “continuing resolution,” and the draft Senate bill that restores most cuts the week of March 7, 2011. 60 votes are required for either bill to move forward.
Below are details on the provisions in the “continuing resolution” related to mental illness research, services and housing programs.
Overall, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) would be subject to a $1 billion reduction under HR 1. This would be imposed on a current fiscal year 2010 NIH budget of $31 billion—approximately a 7 percent cut bringing NIH back to its fiscal year 2008 level. For the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the NIH, this would mean an $86 million cut below the fiscal year 2010 level of $1.49 billion. A cut of this magnitude would further erode the “pay line” for NIMH—the cut off line of investigator initiated grants for basic scientific and clinical research on schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and other serious mental illnesses.
For the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the House bill proposes a $200 million “general” reduction below the current fiscal 2010 level of $3.583 billion. This is a 5.5 percent reduction below current levels. The bill does not specify how this $200 million reduction is to be allocated across SAMHSA’s three separate centers (mental health services, substance abuse prevention and substance abuse treatment), although the expectation is that the reductions would touch all SAMHSA programs. In addition, the House bill also eliminates the small amount of increased funding SAMHSA has received since fiscal year 2008 (less than $3 million at the Center for Mental Health Services). The two-week “continuing resolution” that the President signed last week eliminated $15 million in congressionally directed earmarks at the agency that were included in the fiscal 2010 budget. The Senate bill largely restores these cuts to SAMHSA, bringing funding back to $3.548 billion.
No agency takes deeper cuts in the House “continuing resolution” than HUD. Within the HUD budget, the Section 811 program is hit particularly hard – a 70 percent reduction below the current fiscal 2010 level of $300 million. The House “continuing resolution” proposes only $90.36 million for Section 811, with complete elimination of funds for development of new supportive housing units for non-elderly people living with disabilities, including serious mental illness. The Senate “continuing resolution” entirely restores the cut to HUD Section 811 to its fiscal year 2010 level of $300 million.
It is important to note that the $90.36 million in the House “continuing resolution” for Section 811 is likely insufficient to account for renewal of existing rent and operating subsidies associated with the program. For fiscal 2011, these costs are projected by HUD to be at least $49 million for “project-based” operating subsidies (known as PRACs) and $87 million for “mainstream tenant-based voucher” renewals. PRAC renewals are needed to keep existing supportive housing units in place for current tenants. Likewise, “mainstream” voucher renewal funding is needed to keep certain rental vouchers in place. Insufficient funding for these operating and rent subsidy renewals would mean that current lease compliant tenants in 811 housing would be at risk of losing their housing.
For the programs under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, the Senate “continuing resolution” fully funds the President’s request for fiscal year 2011 at $2 billion. This is $190 million above the level in the House-passed version. This higher amount would be directed toward the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) program, including rapid re-housing.
By contrast, the House bill does allocate $3.2 billion for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants, an amount sufficient enough to renew existing permanent supportive housing units under Shelter Plus Care and SHP. Likewise, increases are provided in the “continuing resolution” for both the Section 8 tenant-based and the Section 8 project-based programs to renew expiring rent subsidies and vouchers for the remaining months of fiscal year 2011.
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