Congress returns to Washington, D.C., after a six-week summer recess. This return marks a new stage in the political landscape, and all attention gets turned to the fiscal year, which ends on September 30. In a perfectly operating government, the next month would be devoted to reviewing and signing appropriations bills to determine how much money each government-funded project will receive for the new fiscal year. However, with complex budgets and an increasing number of programs to review, the reality is that Congress will need longer than four weeks to review and approve the appropriations bills.
Here is a breakdown of the important dates, people and places that will be part of Washington’s buzz for the next few weeks.
The Deadline Options
When it comes to the timeline to make a decision, Congress has several options on an action to take on or before September 30:
- Congress can leave the deadline at September 30 with no extensions, prompting a government shutdown, like the one we experienced in 2013. A shutdown means that no programs are funded until an interim bill is signed or a continuing resolution is passed.
- Congress can pass a continuing resolution before or on September 30 that would enable all programs to continue to be funded at the pre-existing funding levels as the previous fiscal year. Continuing resolutions are essentially a stopgap for the time between the end of a fiscal year and time at which the next year’s federal budget is approved. Continuing resolutions can extend anywhere from a week to several months depending on Congress’s pressure to get the next budget in place.
- If an agreement on the budget cannot be made at the end of the year, sequestration, or automatic budget cuts that impact programs across the board, could impact both defense and domestic discretionary spending. This includes LIHEAP funding.
So who is it, exactly, that is making these decisions? There are several parties involved in debating the appropriations bills and determining budgets for the new fiscal year. These individuals and groups include:
- The leaders of each appropriations bill
- Leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives
- The White House
For most programs, including those programs and organizations that operate on a grant process, this extended deadline and year-end hustle has no major impact. However, for a program like LIHEAP, the first quarter of the fiscal year is when the program spends the majority of the funds due to drastic weather changes. An extended deadline can have a dramatic impact on the funds allocated to cold-weather states, who open up the application process to residents during the beginning of the winter months. Operating on a pro-rated funding structure could directly impact the benefits that families receive.
What Can We Do?
As champions for LIHEAP, we can do several things:
- Write letters to the Hill to the Appropriations leaders (NAMES) to have more money released. The Campaign for Home Energy Assistance can provide statistics and data to support these letters.
- Check in with main staffers at important offices for your state to ensure that they understand the importance of LIHEAP in your community.
- Participate in the upcoming LIHEAP 101 call in which we’ll review the continuing resolution process and the impact it will have on our program.
Finally, share this message! The more we advocate in our local communities about this program and the importance of full funding, the stronger we will be on the Hill. Follow LIHEAP on Facebook and Twitter for important messaging updates.