Biden's Budget Would Up Spending on State and Local Programs

President Joe Biden, accompanied by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, right, speaks as he gets his weekly economic briefing in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, April 9, 2021, in Washington.

President Joe Biden, accompanied by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, right, speaks as he gets his weekly economic briefing in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, April 9, 2021, in Washington. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

The president's initial fiscal 2022 blueprint, released Friday, calls for a 16% federal spending increase on a broad slate of domestic programs. Republicans swiftly criticized the plan.

President Biden's preliminary fiscal 2022 budget plan, which the White House released Friday, would substantially boost funding for a range of programs that state and local governments depend on in areas such as education, housing and transportation.

The request includes $769 billion in what's known as "non-defense discretionary funding," a broad category that covers many of the grants that flow to the state and local level. That amount of spending would mark a 16% increase over fiscal 2021. Biden's proposal also includes $753 billion for national defense programs, a 1.7% increase in that part of the budget, bringing the total plan to around $1.5 trillion.

The president's budget blueprint, outlined in a 58-page document, follows a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that Biden signed into law last month and comes as he pushes for a separate proposal that envisions upwards of $2 trillion in spending on infrastructure and other domestic priorities.

Taken together, Biden's spending measures during his first months in office demonstrate his willingness to increase the flow of federal dollars and expand the role of the government at a time when the nation is beginning to emerge from the  pandemic, and amid heightened attention on race and equity issues following widespread protests last year.

“This moment of crisis is also a moment of possibility,” Shalanda Young, acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, wrote in a letter to congressional lawmakers.

Young also noted that this year will mark the expiration of budget caps imposed a decade ago, which she said in her letter contributed to significant underinvestment by the federal government in core areas, with spending on things like education, research and public health shrinking as a share of the economy.

Specific proposals in the president's spending plan include ramping up Title I grants flowing to high-poverty schools by $20 billion compared to fiscal 2021, to $36.5 billion; expanding Housing Choice Vouchers to 200,000 more low-income families; and providing $500 million in added funding for an affordable housing grant program known as HOME Investment Partnerships. The HOME increase would bring the total for that account to $1.9 billion, it's highest level since 2009.

The budget request also calls for a 23% increase to the Capital Investment Grant program, to $2.5 billion. That program helps fund rail and bus transit projects. There's also $2.7 billion for Amtrak, a 35% increase. At least some of the Amtrak dollars would be for the Northeast Corridor—one the nation's busiest sections of rail.

Most of the funding that flows from the Transportation Department to states and localities comes from the Highway Trust Fund, and is budgeted through a process that is separate from discretionary appropriations bills. Administration officials also indicated that the budget is meant to complement Biden's infrastructure plan.

Community Development Block Grant funding would rise under the spending proposal to $3.8 billion, from around $3.4 billion in fiscal 2021. The White House says this would include a $295 million increase targeted to incentivize communities to use the money for infrastructure upgrades in historically underfunded communities. 

CDGB is generally popular among local governments, providing a flexible funding source to help cover costs like improvements to parks and sewer systems, or assistance to the elderly and homeless.

Biden is also requesting $717 million, a $100 million hike, for a program run by the Department of Agriculture that provides grants and low-cost loans that rural water systems regularly tap for projects.

With mass shootings in Georgia and Colorado in recent weeks, and with murder rates up in some larger cities, the proposal calls for $401 million—a $162 million increase—for state and local grants for programs geared toward reducing gun violence. Justice Department civil rights programs, including a division that leads investigations into state and local police departments that can trigger reform efforts, would see funding rise by $33 million, to $209 million.

The request includes a variety of spending increases for programs related to environmental and climate change initiatives as well. For instance, the administration says it would provide over $1.2 billion more than the fiscal 2021 budget for "resilience" projects meant to better protect communities from threats like wildfire, drought and flooding and there's $815 million—a $540 million plus-up—to "incorporate climate impacts into pre-disaster planning and projects."

The White House also says it wants to invest about $1.4 billion in environmental justice initiatives and $550 million to remediate abandoned oil and gas wells and mining lands.

Strong Opposition to Proposal

Republicans were swift to criticize the plan. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other GOP leaders in the chamber released a joint statement saying that Biden's budget "prioritized spending trillions on liberal wish list priorities," while neglecting the military.

“Over the past decade, China’s defense spending has increased by $200 billion, while America’s has decreased by $400 billion. China’s military investments match its desire to out-compete America and hold our military forces at risk," the lawmakers said. "President Biden’s defense spending cut doesn’t even keep up with inflation."

Biden, meanwhile, indicated that he was holding out hope for cooperation on his budget plans and other priorities.

"I’ve already spoken to some of my Republican colleagues about dealing with the infrastructure legislation we have up there, as well as other budget items," he said at the White House on Friday afternoon. "So we're going to work on seeing if we can get some bipartisan support across the board here." 

Biden's budget is a sharp departure from the spending plans former President Donald Trump put forward, which called for slashing a host of domestic programs, including grant accounts like HOME and CDBG.

Congressional appropriators hold heavy sway over the nation's budgeting process and White House budgets are often seen more as statements of policy priorities than frameworks for actual spending laws. Congress, for instance, didn't adopt many of the more extreme spending requests Trump made, even when Republicans controlled Congress, earlier in his term.

Democrats control the House and have a one-vote majority in the Senate. Key lawmakers on that side of the aisle voiced support for Biden's plan. "Make no mistake, the investments proposed by the Biden administration are necessary and urgent," said Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy, of Vermont.

The Biden administration is expected to release a full budget proposal later this spring. The preliminary plan can be found here.

Bill Lucia is a senior editor at Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.

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