Omnibus Bill Advances Economic Opportunity and Social Justice, Despite Key Omissions
The following statement can be attributed to Indivar Dutta-Gupta, president and executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).
Washington, D.C., December 22, 2022—The 2023 Omnibus Appropriations bill offers an important opportunity to advance economic opportunity and strengthen social, gender, and racial justice. Yes, the bill includes some heartbreaks—most particularly by failing to address key immigration issues and neglecting to expand the Child Tax Credit (CTC), which demonstrably led to the lowest level of child poverty on record. Yet the omnibus also includes important wins for people with low incomes, including in the areas of child care; health and mental health; labor and education; protections for pregnant workers; and nutrition supports. CLASP applauds the bill’s passage and notes that the legislation’s key provisions—and what it overlooks—highlight policy priorities for 2023 and beyond.
CLASP joins partners in the immigration community in acknowledging how devastating it is for Congress to fail once again to come together in making critical fixes to our immigration system that promote family unity, including a pathway to citizenship for those who contribute so much to our communities and call this country home. Most notably, the lack of a permanent fix for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and other young immigrants means more than 600,000 DACA recipients will lose their lawful status and work permits in the near future and thousands of other Dreamers will continue to live in limbo. That said, the bill includes some important resources to support asylum seekers as well as the communities working to welcome them, as well as increases funds to support legal representation, child advocates, and post-release services for unaccompanied children.
Income Supports and Nutrition
Despite child poverty rates that fell to their lowest levels ever in 2021 thanks to the expanded CTC, Congress failed to include this proven poverty-fighting measure in the omnibus bill. Likewise, the bill excludes expansions to the Earned Income Tax Credit, a program with long-standing bipartisan support.
In the nutrition space, the omnibus extends to all states the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children (Summer EBT) program, which provides additional purchasing resources to address the hunger that many children experience when school meals end in the summer. It also includes a measure allowing states to use federal funds to replace SNAP benefits that are stolen from recipients when organized groups engaged in criminal activity clone SNAP EBT cards and withdraw their funds. Outrageously, the bill also cuts nutrition benefits to other households with low incomes by prematurely ending SNAP Emergency Allotments.
Child Care and Early Education
To support the fragile child care sector that remains woefully underfunded, the omnibus bill includes a boost of $8 billion—representing a 30 percent increase from fiscal year 2022—for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCBDG). This added funding will help the program serve an additional 130,000+ children. The bill also provides a nearly $12 billion increase (an 8.6 percent jump) for Head Start, along with reauthorizing the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program.
Health and Mental Health
The bill ends the COVID-related protections that prohibited states from disenrolling people from Medicaid. This provision will now end on March 31. However, the bill creates more transparency and allows CMS to hold states accountable if they terminate eligible people from health coverage.
This bill invests in a range of programs that support mental and behavioral health, including more than $1 billion for the Mental Health Block Grant. The bill also includes critical provisions for maternal mental health that support birthing persons where they are and support a diverse set of providers to provide culturally sensitive and linguistically concordant care.
Labor and Higher Education
At the last minute, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, a bipartisan effort prohibiting discrimination against employees affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions was incorporated into the omnibus. Other provisions to support working people include $9 million for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, $20 million for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and $25 million for the long-neglected National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), averting threatened furloughs of staff. And in the higher education sphere, the omnibus increases the maximum Pell Grant award amount to $7,395, a $500 increase above fiscal year 2022 enacted levels.
All in all, the country will be a better place with the bill than without it. Even this omnibus that falls short of what is needed is better than a year-long continuing resolution that locks in last year’s spending at a time of high inflation—or a government shutdown.