Congress: Stop Cutting Out LGBTQ People
Every Monday, I look over my budgets and make sure I’m on track for the month. I check in with myself to make sure that my needs and wants were met; did I have enough to eat, did I take time to see friends, is my house still comfortable and safe? I wonder if I can spend a little less money on subway rides by walking and riding my bike more. If I have a little extra, I move some money to my savings account. As I’ve gotten deeper into a relationship and our finances have started intermingling more, budgeting has gotten more complex. Now instead of just worrying about my own finances, budgeting has become a conversation between my girlfriend and me about our values and the sacrifices we’re willing to make.
Every summer, Congress goes through a similar process — only instead of considering the needs and financial resources of two people, they’re talking about three hundred million people and four trillion dollars. The process starts in February when the President submits a proposed budget to Congress. Congress responds with a budget resolution that sets spending ceilings for the upcoming year. Next, Appropriations Committees in both the House and the Senate meet to hammer out the details of the budget and create bills that they report to the full chamber for a floor vote.
Out of the 12 appropriations bills that need to be acted upon, few have made it to a floor vote yet. Though the House has passed six and moved another four through committee, the Senate hasn’t passed any of the nine bills that have been reported by the Appropriations Committee. Republicans have sought more budget cuts while at the same time, Democrats are refusing to pass bills that don’t exceed sequestration caps — spending levels that were created by the Budget Control Act of 2011 and triggered in 2013 when Congress could not agree to a plan to reduce the federal deficit.
While sequestration helps reduce the deficit, it leaves gaping holes in education, healthcare, and community services. The $153 billion for the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Spending Bill that has been approved by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees represents $3.6 billion less than the amount spent last year and $14.5 billion less than the President’s proposed budget. Both chambers are approving less funding, yet numbers from the Senate tend to be drastically lower. For example, while the government spent $3.62 billion on substance abuse and mental health in 2015, the Senate bill proposes a $160 million cut in these services. With studies showing that queer and trans people are more likely to experience mental health issues including depression, anxiety and substance abuse, and are at increased risk for suicide, federal funding for these services is critical to our well-being.
Both the House and the Senate are also seeking cuts in refugee and entrant assistance; while the government spent $1.56 billion in 2015, the House has proposed a budget of $1.43 billion and the Senate has proposed a budget of $1.41 billion. Among other things, this funding provides shelter for unaccompanied immigrant children and support for survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking, many of whom are LGBTQ. Parents of young children may find certain services to be less accessible next year. Both the House and Senate bills propose small increases in Head Start funding — $8.8 billion and $8.7 billion, respectively, compared to the $8.6 billion allocated in 2015. However, these increases will not cover the increase in cost of living in 2016. According to the Senate minority appropriations staff, this deficit represents 12,000 fewer spaces for children in Head Start.
The appropriations bills do contain some good news for queer and trans communities. The Senate Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Bill has earmarked $40 million for comprehensive homeless and runaway youth services. Young queer and trans people are more likely to experience homelessness than the general population, so many members of our community will benefit from this new funding. A small change in the language regarding syringe policy opens up a channel for funding and may make clean needles more accessible to more people. With inaccessible healthcare forcing some trans people to use street hormones and LGBTQ youth intravenous drug use at a higher rate than the general population, clean needles can help keep more of us healthy.
If budgeting as one-half of a relationship has taught me more about my values and priorities, then looking at Congress’s budget can tell us a whole lot about where the country’s values are. Cuts in spending that will make healthcare, education, and childcare less accessible to those of us who need them most show how much work is left to do to advocate for those who need those services — particularly immigrants, people of color, and LGBTQ people. At the same time, a more liberal syringe policy and millions of dollars to support homeless youth should be celebrated as victories for some of our most marginalized community members.
by Laura Wooley, National LGBTQ Task Force Holley Law Fellow