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  • shelhusk

Follow the Money...

Have you ever wondered how government programs were funded? I will be the first to admit that I was completely clueless before coming to DC, but since I am getting a crash course in appropriations, you are too. Warning, you may become drowsy, so please do not operate heavy machinery. (see example below)

First important thing to know is the difference between authorizing and appropriating. The standard committees in the U.S. House of Representatives can make recommendations to authorize programs, but they cannot fund them. Even if a bill gets to the floor of the House and passes, the programs still have not been funded. I had no idea that there are hundreds of programs that remain unfunded.

So how do things get funded? The process is called appropriations. There is 1 Appropriations committee in the House that has 12 subcommittee that cover all issue areas. Budgets for the next year are supposed to be passed by October 1st, but it took Congress until December 2022 to pass the Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) budget, because the 2 parties had to negotiate. Generally, the appropriations process takes about 2 months, usually starting in early to mid-February. This year, because it took so long to get the House going, the process was delayed and it has been accelerated, giving us less than a month to do the work.

The process begins with writing letters in support of whatever you want funded, then you want to get as much support for your letter. To do that, we will circulate the letter, then make contact with offices we think will sign onto the letter- and the more that sign on, the better. Groups outside of Congress are very busy this time of year, as they have to find an office (or several) that will move a letter around for their funding request. Our office has a spreadsheet listing all the letters they have signed onto in the past and which letters Congressman DeSaulnier will circulate himself. I was told that our office will sign onto 500-600 letters! Each Congressional Office does the same process, meaning you can multiply this by 434 to account for all the Representatives.

When the due dates are coming close, and we have gathered as much support for our letters as possible, then we have to submit them to the proper appropriations subcommittee. Adding to the fun is that some of the letters will cover multiple issue areas and so each letter might need to be submitted to multiple committees. Each Representative is allowed 75 submissions per subcommittee, so if we have more letters, we have to prioritize. Each member also ranks their top 15 requests overall. Once the submissions are made and have been submitted to the subcommittees, then the appropriations subcommittees get to work. In theory, the submitted requests that have more support (submitted by the most offices) are more likely to get funded. Our deadlines for submission are the last week in March, so the legislative team (including me) in our office will be able to breathe again starting in April.

Each subcommittee makes recommendations and the House votes on each subcommittees recommendations for the FY24 budget. These are the 12 pieces that must be separately approved by both the House and Senate. Before a budget is considered passed, however, the House and Senate versions must be identical.

Hopefully you stayed with me to the end without nodding off too much. As crazy as this process is going to be, I think school districts can learn something from the process. In particular, before making any decisions, districts should integrate teachers in the budget process. In addition to materials we need in our classroom, teachers should be included in the conversation before spending any money on outside professional development. Teachers know what they need. Listen to the teachers!

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