October 6, 2006 Volume 107 Number 19

Congress poised to cut education, labor, human services

The U.S. Labor and Education Departments and Head Start are going to get their budgets cut again — if and when the Republican-led Congress moves ahead with an appropriations bill that has been dormant since July.

In anticipation of the cuts, the Oregon Employment Department closed the downtown Portland employment office and planned to cut 82 positions (6 percent of its workforce) over the next year. About 70 percent of its budget comes from federal funds.

The looming cuts prompted a last- minute appeal by the Emergency Campaign for America's Priorities (ECAP), a national ad hoc coalition of unions and community groups, which is calling on Congress to restore funding.

Each year, Congress approves the federal budget through 13 separate appropriations bills that cover different parts of the federal government. The one ECAP has been watching would allocate $56.2 billion to Labor, Health & Human Services and Education. That’s a $400 million cut from this year’s budget, and $1 billion less than last year’s. The impact is worse when inflation is taken into account.

Within the Department of Labor, the budget cuts include: A $10 million cut to the Wage and Hour Division, which enforces minimum wage, overtime and child labor laws; a $27.8 million cut in Trade Adjustment Assistance — the job training and income support program for workers who lose their jobs due to outsourcing or foreign competition; a 50 percent ($5 million) cut in a program that funds safety training by unions and community-based groups; a $2.1 million cut in coal mine enforcement, and a $431 million in cuts to Workforce Investment Act programs.

Within the Department of Education, some programs will have their budgets frozen, including Head Start; programs and services for military families; and vocational training grants to states.Some programs will have their budgets cut, including No Child Left Behind, the Bush Administration’s signature education initiative. Next year’s budget for No Child Left Behind is $23 billion, $1.5 billion less than last year’s. That means less money for grants to help schools recruit, hire and train highly-qualified teachers to meet teacher quality requirements and reduce class sizes.

Congress is supposed to pass the federal budget before the Oct. 1 beginning of the federal government’s fiscal year, but sometimes it fails to meet that deadline and passes a “continuing resolution” — basically it’s an agreement to continue spending at current levels until the final budget is worked out. Some of the current round of cuts could have bad political consequences for members of Congress up for re-election, so it’s expected that the leadership will wait until after the November election to vote on the budget bill.

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