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RSVP Budget and Appropriations Update:
Senate Subcommittee Rejects Administration Plan for RSVP

Washington Consultant, Gene Sofer

On June10, the Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee marked up, and approved, its FY 2015 bill. This is the bill that funds the Departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, as well as the Corporation for National Service.

As you can see from this chart, the President's Budget proposed a total of $158 billion, an increase of $1.1 billion over last year. The Senate allocated almost $157 billion, the same amount as last year. The House proposed $1.1 billion less than the Senate.

Obama FY 15 request: 158.0

House FY 15 allocation: 155.7

Senate FY 15 allocation: 156.8

FY14 Final: 156.9 billion

The Senate was somewhat more generous to Labor-HHS than the House was. According to estimates, because of the need to fund the Unaccompanied Alien Children program at $1.1 billion that we have now read and heard so much about, and the change in how the Committee treats student loan servicing costs ($300 million), neither of which is accounted for in these totals, the House and Senate are both well below the FY 14 level: the House by about $2.5 billion and the Senate by about $1.4 billion.

In marking up its bill, the Senate Committee found additional savings in mandatory accounts and was able to use those savings to fund discretionary programs.

The Subcommittee rejected the Administration's proposal to restructure, and ultimately eliminate RSVP, and Foster Grandparents and Senior Companions. Instead it funded all three programs at last year's levels (RSVP at $48.9 million, SCP at $45.5 million, and FGP at $107.7 million).

The Committee Report that accompanies the bill, we have been led to believe, includes language that tells the Administration that changes such as it proposed are to be considered during the authorization process not as part of appropriations bills. Unfortunately, it is Committee practice that Report language is not made public until the Full Committee approves the bill. That has not happened yet (see below).

The Senate Appropriations Committee has indefinitely postponed the full committee markup of the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill. Since the markup had never been officially scheduled, it therefore wasn't officially postponed, but Subcommittee Chairman Harkin said, "there are no plans" for when a markup might happen. In the absence of any official explanation, theories about why the mark up was postponed are rife. Some theorize that the Committee wanted to protect the bill from votes on Obama care or other nettlesome issues.

Sen. Alexander (R-TN), who serves on the Appropriations Committee, gave a speech setting forth two education-related amendments he intended to offer. One would prohibit "the U.S. Department of Education from exercising any influence over the academic standards States use to define what students should know and be able to do, as well as the test States use to determine whether students have met those standards." The other would prevent the Department from developing a rating system colleges and universities.

There is no news about when, or if, the House will markup its version of the bill. It is very unlikely that the House will resort to the same tactics as the Senate did, the House bill would likely be $3.5 billion below the Senate subcommittee. That virtually ensures deep cuts in many programs. It is widely assumed that Members will not want to vote on these cuts until after the election.

The delay in the Senate consideration of the subcommittee bill and in the markup of the House bill makes it ever more certain that Labor-HHS-ED will be in a CR until the lame duck session that is likely to occur after the November elections.

Even though the FY 2015 process is ongoing, we are preparing our Budget request for FY 2016, which begins October 1.

We continue to advocate for $63 million, the amount of funding for RSVP before it suffered a 20 percent cut in fiscal year 2011.

Funding for RSVP should be increased for four reasons:

  • the number of "baby boomers" reaching retirement age increases by 10,000 a day. This is going to keep happening every single day for the next 19 years.
  • we need to add volunteers to meet local needs that are growing as folks lose their jobs, state and local budgets get cut, and nonprofits scale back.
  • the cost of managing volunteers keeps going up as a result of health care coasts, gasoline, and the like. Meanwhile program budgets keep going down so we need to strengthen existing programs.
  • RSVP is a great investment. The average RSVP grant is $74,000 while, according to Genworth Financial, the median annual rate to keep one senior in a semi-private room in a nursing home in the United States is $70,445.

RSVP is a program that has a demonstrated record of success, addresses community needs, and is extremely cost-effective.