House Approves $1.3 Billion Cut to Health Centers

by Anne Morris, MPH

Late Friday evening/early Saturday morning – depending on your perspective – the House of Representatives approved a Continuing Resolution (CR), H.R. 1, which will fund government programs for the remainder of FY2011 by a vote of 235-189.  The bill cuts $100 billion in federal spending when compared to the President’s FY2011 Budget Request. And as we reported last week, the CR cuts $1.3 billion from the Health Centers program and nearly $174 million from the National Health Service Corps, relative to the President’s FY2011 Request ($1.0 billion and nearly $142 million when compared to the FY2010-enacted funding level).  The NACHC press release on this legislation may be found here.

You may recall from our post on the floor process that the House considered H.R. 1 under a modified open rule process, which allowed Members to offer amendments or proposed changes to the bill.  As a result, debate on the bill spanned 4 days and over 60 hours.  Amendments sponsored by Representatives Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and Steve King (R-IA), and Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Subcommittee Chairman Denny Rehberg (R-MT) are among the nearly 70 amendments incorporated into the legislation and those that directly affect the Health Centers program.  The Hastings Amendment provides $42 million in funding to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), $14 million of which is redirected HRSA funding and $28 million if which is new HRSA funding (offset by cuts to the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).  The House also approved two amendments sponsored by King and one by Rehberg that block HRSA and other federal agencies and departments from using CR funds to implement the Affordable Care Act.  The implications for how HRSA would administer the Community Health Center (CHC) Fund if this bill were to become law is not clear. It could mean, for example, that HRSA would be forced to separately account for discretionary funding and funding through the CHC Fund. Importantly, none of these amendments would rescind or eliminate the CHC Fund.  On a positive note, it is worth noting that Representative Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) offered an amendment to restore health center funding; however, this amendment was ruled out of order and did not have a recorded vote.

I’m sure you must be asking yourself what does this all mean and what comes next.  First off, keep in mind the House-passed CR is the first step.  Starting this week, advocates in key states will begin to hear from NACHC regarding Senate outreach. The Senate and White House will have significant involvement in this process, and both the House and Senate will ultimately need to pass the same bill for it to become law.  President Obama has already indicated he strongly opposes H.R. 1 and will veto any legislation that undermines critical national priorities.  Speaker Boehner has vowed not to pass a CR that maintains current spending levels.  While it’s hard to predict exactly how the process will unfold over the next two weeks, and there are rumors of a possible government shutdown, we know that the importance of your calls, emails, and in-person visits cannot be overstated and greatly appreciate all of your hard work to date.

Members of Congress will be home in their districts and states this week, and they need to hear from you what H.R. 1 will mean for your health center and health centers around the country. Please visit our website for helpful information and resources.  Remember that despite the appearance of the $1.0 billion cut to the Health Centers program (relative to the FY2010-enacted level)  being  “offset” by the FY2011 allocation of dedicated funding for health centers through the CHC Fund, the CR represents a real and significant cut to health centers. The 127 new health centers that have opened in the past few years due to stimulus funding are threatened, and the 3.3 million new patients who received access to care have their services jeopardized. The proposed bill would  also halt the expansion of the cost-effective health center model for FY2011, meaning no New Access Points would be funded, Expanded Services applications that have already been submitted would go unfunded, an d communities seeking planning grants for health centers would not be awarded any.

To learn more about and join the advocacy effort, please visit this post.  Be sure to stay tuned to your Advocacy Alerts and Health Centers on the Hill for updates in the coming days!

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